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Moving On

Chapter Text

Dan had been unusually quiet since they'd returned from the U.S. leg of TATINOF, spending most of his time just slouching in his sofa crease or hiding out in his bedroom doing who-knows-what. Phil couldn't help feeling like he was being shut out, but they were both pretty drained from the non-stop social pressure of the tour, so he figured they both just needed some down time. He gave Dan his space.

But weeks stretched into months, and Dan's silent brooding continued. It usually wasn't healthy to let him wallow in these dark moods, so Phil decided to give him a nudge. Not push him too much—Dan didn't respond well to feeling pushed—just ... nudge.

"Spooky Week coming up," Phil commented one morning as Dan shuffled groggily into the kitchen in his sleepwear of track bottoms and a faded grey t-shirt. Dan only grunted. Phil added in a sprightly voice, "Lots of videos to film."

Dan glanced toward Phil where he sat on the sofa with his open laptop, researching possible Halloween baking ideas. He'd been at it for the past two hours and thought he'd come up with a few possibilities Dan might enjoy. He was excited to pick Dan's brain to see what he wanted to make this year.

"Yeah. I know. Just ... Jesus, Phil ... give me a minute to wake up before you start hounding me."

Phil blinked, surprised and a little hurt by Dan's attitude. He'd made one innocuous comment—how did that qualify as "hounding"? But he just nodded silently and returned to his baking research, giving Dan however much time he needed.

When Dan plopped down on the couch with his bowl of cereal, Phil ventured a quiet apology. "Sorry if I started in on you before you were awake enough. I was just excited to start planning the Halloween videos. I've been doing some research on baking options..."

But Dan interrupted him, mumbling through a mouthful of Country Crisp. "I'm not doing a baking video this year." It was strange wording, him saying "I" when the videos had always been a "we" thing. Phil frowned slightly.

"Um. Okay. Why?"

Dan scowled and stood up. "I just don't feel like it. I'll do the fucking Spooky Week for the gaming channel, but that's it." He walked back toward the kitchen with his cereal bowl, and a moment later Phil could hear the water running in the sink. Dan was apparently throwing out the rest of his breakfast without eating it. This was worse than he'd thought.

When Dan emerged from the kitchen, clearly intending to bypass the lounge and head back to his bedroom without any additional conversation, Phil asked, "What's up? You're usually so excited for Halloween, but this year you just seem ... off."

Dan turned to look at him again and growled, "Off? I seem 'off'? I'm just fucking tired of everything being 'Dan and Phil.' We did 'Dan and Phil' for months on the book, and then months on the tour, and now we're supposed to be 'Dan and Phil' for Spooky Week, and then there's the additional TATINOF dates, and I just ... when the fuck do I get to just be 'Dan,' Phil? When do I get to just be ... an individual, and not half of a fucking brand? I mean, we even won that fucking Best Vlogger award together, as if we aren't even two separate people!"

Phil was taken aback. He'd never realized that Dan might resent the constant togetherness of the work on the book and the tour, or the award they'd won. They were such close friends—Phil had thought they were having fun. But he didn't have a chance to say anything before Dan continued, his voice raised now.

"And what the hell is it all even FOR, anyway? I mean, I could be doing something actually meaningful with my life. I could be doing videos about things that matter to me, things that might have a real effect on the world. But no. I'm falling out of my chair playing video games and fucking baking. Is this my actual life, Phil? Is this all I'm going to accomplish? When we started writing the book, we talked about it being our legacy. Well, I want my legacy to be more than that. And I want it to be mine, not ours."

Phil flinched this time. This was all starting to hit home. He'd had no idea that Dan was this unhappy with their partnership. He ventured tentatively, "So is this why you've been so quiet since we got home?"

Dan sighed and ran a hand through his hair, still standing on the other side of the lounge, as far as he could get from Phil without actually leaving the room. "It's just ..." Dan paused and met Phil's eyes for just a moment before his gaze skittered away. He was looking vaguely toward the Muse poster on the wall when he said, "My life has revolved around you since I was 18 years old, Phil. I don't even know who 'Dan' is when he isn't half of 'Dan and Phil' ... and I think maybe it's time I found out."

Phil nodded slowly, his gut tightening with nerves. "So ... uh ... what exactly were you thinking of doing?"

Dan rubbed a hand against the back of his neck and looked at the floor. "Well, I definitely want to change the style of content on my channel. I mean, I talk about more meaningful stuff in my live shows than I do in my videos, and I want that to change."

Still nodding, Phil tried to be supportive. "That sounds like something you could really enjoy. And I think your subscribers would be into it."

"Yeah." Dan scuffed a toe against the carpet, still staring down. "And I think I should move out. Get my own place."

WHAT? Jumping to his feet, Phil walked a few steps toward him, bursting out, "Dan! That isn't necessary! You can rebrand or whatever it is you need to do, but you don't have to actually leave!"

Dan met his eyes now, and from this nearer distance Phil could see tears in them, which broke his heart. He hated it when Dan cried, especially if he felt like he'd been any part of the cause.

"That's just the thing, though. See, I've never even had any other real friends. Everything has been about us. And I want to be able to make it about me. You were the first person who seemed to really listen to me and understand me, and I guess I just clung to that because it felt safe and familiar and comfortable, and I never tried to do anything ... more."

Phil didn't get truly angry very often, but this conversation was starting to get him there. Was Dan saying that he'd only continued his friendship with Phil as a sort of default? Just because it was easier than venturing out on his own? Phil wasn't going to be anybody's easy way out. "Fine," he grated. "Do it. Move out. Make your deep, metaphysical videos. Do your fantastically meaningful live shows in your fucking Winnie-the-Pooh onesie..."

Dan yelled, interrupting him, "I wore that ironically!"

But Phil continued, yelling louder to be heard over Dan, "And go out and make real friends who you aren't just clinging to like a fucking security blanket! Because you aren't a kid anymore and you can do whatever you fucking want!" He didn't usually swear so much, but he wasn't feeling particularly rational at the moment.

"Fine!" Dan screamed, and tears were falling now, trailing down his cheeks, but Phil wasn't feeling guilty anymore. He was feeling too hurt and angry to even care. "I'll move out after the Sweden TATINOF dates. And I'll ... I'll call PJ and ask if I can stay there in the meantime." His hands were twisted together in front of him now and his voice was quieter when he added, "I can come by whenever you want to film the Spooky Week videos. We wouldn't want to tell the subscribers anything yet ... not until after TATINOF is done ... obviously."

Phil was taken aback. Dan was leaving now? TODAY? Didn't he have any respect for all their years of friendship? Apparently not.

Well, then fuck him. Let him go. Phil had a life before Dan, and he'd have a life after him. He didn't know what this was going to mean for their fanbase, but he couldn't worry about that right now. Dan might have more subscribers, but Phil had been around a lot longer, and things would work out somehow.

Phil turned his back and walked back to the sofa, seating himself cross-legged and picking up his laptop. He set about closing all the now irrelevant baking-related tabs, his fingers hitting the keys with hard, angry jabs.

Dan stayed standing where he was for a moment, and Phil could feel those brown eyes on him, but he didn't look up until he heard footsteps leading away toward Dan's bedroom, where Dan was no doubt going to call PJ and pack a bag.

Phil didn't cry often, but he felt hot tears spring to his eyes now as his fingers stilled on the keyboard. He never would have imagined this scenario, Dan leaving him and with such animosity. He hoped in the long run their friendship would somehow survive, but right now ... right now that didn't look very likely.

He closed the laptop and raised his hands to his face, imagining how quiet the flat would be tonight without his best friend to share it with him. He let the tears fall.

Chapter Text

When Dan got to his room, he shut the door and leaned against it for a moment. That had been worse than he expected. They’d had disagreements before, of course—plenty of times—but they’d always worked things out. In all the years they’d known each other, they’d never yelled at each other like that before.

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he sent a quick text to PJ. He didn’t feel up to actually talking to anybody right now.

Can I stay at yours for a few weeks?

The reply was almost immediate.

Of course! ??????

But Dan didn’t feel like explaining, not by text and not by talking and … maybe just not at all. He just wanted everything to stop for a minute. He should probably start packing a bag—Phil would probably want him out as soon as possible after that train wreck of a conversation—but instead he crawled into his bed fully clothed and just hid under the duvet, pulling it over his head completely so that he was surrounded by quiet darkness and could start getting his breathing under control. His face was still wet, and he wiped the tears away with his hands.

He curled himself into a tight ball and thought back on the argument with Phil. There was no way someone like Phil could understand why Dan needed to do this. Phil had always been so comfortable with himself, with just opening up in front of the camera and sharing his true self with the world. Sure, there were times when he was sad or angry or just not in a good mood, but in general there was so little darkness in Phil, so little he seemed to feel a need to hide.

In comparison, Dan felt like a complete fraud, and TATINOF had only made it worse. He’d spent months going around with the ever-sunny Phil—meeting fans, singing and dancing, acting like this funny, happy, cheerfully ironic guy, making the “Existential Crisis” just a comedic part of the act—when it all felt like just a persona he’d donned in order for subscribers to like him. It wasn’t even entirely about wanting to get people to watch his videos, or buy tickets to their stage show, or anything like that; it was about the fact that, deep down, Dan knew that he wasn’t someone people would want to know, or watch, or really have anything to do with. Not just on YouTube, not just in his career, but just in general. Dan wasn’t someone anybody would care about. Not if they really knew him.

When he’d first met Phil, it had seemed like a miracle, this unbelievably cool person noticing him and seeing something worthwhile in him and encouraging him to pursue his dreams. And he felt like Phil did know him, at least better than anyone else ever had, but it wasn’t right to rely so heavily on one person, and especially not someone who was just a friend. It wasn’t like they were together, and Phil deserved to find someone he could be with that way, someone who could be a real partner to him. And Dan knew that his constant presence in Phil’s life, Phil’s constant need to be there for him and lift him out of his dark moods … that was all getting in the way of Phil’s real happiness in the long term.

He curled up tighter as the guilt ate at him, as it always did when he allowed himself to think about everything Phil gave him and how little he gave in return. It wasn’t fair to Phil. Dan hadn’t really noticed that when their friendship first formed—he’d been young and selfish and intoxicated with that first connection to another person who seemed to value him in a way no one else ever had, and he’d been nursing a pretty significant crush too—but the inequality had become more and more apparent to him as the years had gone on. And he just couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t hold Phil back when Phil deserved everything good in the world.

Sure, they’d helped each other’s careers by combining their brands—the book and the tour would probably never have happened for either of them alone—but it was all based on lies, on Dan hiding the ugliness that filled him on the inside, on Dan wearing a mask for the public, and even for Phil to some extent. He knew he didn’t deserve all the praise and adulation, the cheering crowds, the awards. He was nothing more than a liar, hiding the true darkness of his own soul by turning it into a joke so that no one would take it seriously. He played the role well—he’d always been a decent actor—but that’s all it was: a role. And that made it all so … meaningless.

It had been so much worse since they got back from the tour. He’d found himself returning to his Internet-surfing patterns, just slouching on the sofa and eating cereal and watching “American Horror Story” and realizing that, even with everything they’d accomplished, nothing had actually changed. He was still the same useless waste of space, and if he wanted to actually be worth anything, then it was time for him to get off his ass and create something that might make the world an even slightly better place. Maybe he could do something to help people. He’d felt good working with the “Nicer Internet” folks, and he’d even felt like some of the “Internet Support Groups” might be addressing issues that could help some of his viewers, but he needed to do more.

Someday, 13-year-old girls wouldn’t be subscribing to him anymore just because he had dimples. Someday, he’d have wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and he wouldn’t be “pretty” anymore, and what would he have going for him then? A uni drop-out with no real work experience except making a bunch of frivolous YouTube videos with cat whiskers on his face. Where would he be then? Phil had his university degrees and his endless creativity, and he could always move on to making films, getting back to some of his edgier aesthetic from his earlier videos. Phil had such a bright future ahead of him, but Dan…

Dan felt like if he was going to make any difference in this world, if he was going to contribute anything worthwhile and be more than just another anime-obsessed video gamer scrolling through Tumblr for hours every day … well, if he was going to actually do anything with his life, then he needed to do it now.

He was quite aware that he wasn’t ever going to be a good person, never going to be somebody who could show everything inside him and be … well … loved. He knew he was never going to have that, because he would never be able to be truly honest with anyone to that extent, not when he knew how ugly the truth was. But maybe he could do a little bit of good, contribute a little something to the world so that in the end his existence might not have been a total waste.

So it was time to set the cat whiskers aside, time to stop relying on Phil’s support, time for him to finally go it on his own and do something real.

He pulled the duvet down so that his head was exposed, and he looked around his room. He was going to miss this place. He’d always felt so safe here, with the fairy lights on the headboard and Phil just in the next room. But it was time to grow up and move on.

He got out of bed and started packing a bag.

Chapter Text

Spooky Week was a little weird. Phil decorated the office by himself, something he and Dan had always done together previously, and Dan just came over for a couple hours each day to play the five games he’d chosen for the year. They were a bit stiff and formal with each other, but tried to act as natural as possible on camera. They just didn’t talk much about anything but the games themselves, and there was maybe less banter than in previous years. Phil hoped the viewers wouldn’t notice and start asking questions. He wasn’t ready for that yet. He also hoped he wasn’t looking at Dan too often or too obviously, but he’d missed him so much that it was difficult.

“I can do the editing,” Phil offered after they’d filmed the first video of the series, but Dan had scoffed at him.

“You suck at editing the gaming videos.” He’d said the same thing before, but it stung a little more now than it had in the past.

Phil hesitated before asking, “So … did you want to edit them here? I can just … uh … stay out of your way.”

Dan grimaced, then admitted, “That would probably be easiest. I don’t really want to try to do it at PJ’s.” The mention of where he was living temporarily cranked the awkwardness up a notch.

“Sure, sure,” Phil replied quickly. “I’ll just … go downstairs. Uh … there’s Ribena in the kitchen if you get thirsty.” It felt incredibly strange to be offering Dan a beverage in what had so recently been his own home. Dan clearly felt the same, because he just shook his head with a weak smile and sat down at the computer in the office to start on the editing. Phil beat a hasty retreat, feeling unwelcome and sad.

And that’s how the next five days went. Awkward and formal and trying to stay out of each other’s way as much as possible except when they were in front of the camera trying to act like everything was normal.

Phil was miserable.

*

When he heard Dan getting ready to leave after editing the final Spooky Week video, Phil awkwardly lurked in the lounge until Dan appeared, then said hesitantly, “Um … everybody’s expecting a new PINOF next month. We sort of promised one would be coming out.”

Dan ran his hand through his hair and looked at the floor. “Yeah, we should probably do that.” He glanced up and met Phil’s eyes. “But it’s going to be kind of weird, not talking about what’s going on.”

Phil smiled gently, seeing how much this was bothering Dan, and suggested, “We’ll just pick the least personal questions, okay? Just silly stuff. We can still manage to be silly together, at least one last time, right?” He watched Dan’s face, feeling the pathetically hopeful expression that was clearly on his own but unable to pretend he didn’t care.

Dan smiled, and his dimples showed, and Phil felt such relief that he reached out a hand to grip the arm of the sofa to make sure he didn’t swoon or something embarrassing like that. Dan met his gaze steadily and said, “We’ve always been good at the silly stuff. Just because things are complicated right now and I’m wanting to go in a different direction … that doesn’t mean everything else has been erased. So we’ll do it for the subscribers, and we’ll do it to sort of wrap up that part of our history. It was a good part.”

They smiled at each other for a long moment, and it was the most connected Phil had felt since that terrible argument here in the lounge more than a week ago. They hadn’t really spoken much since then outside of filming, and this brief moment of warmth between them was like a balm to his wounded heart. But then Dan looked away again, toward the door, and said, “I should really go. The last Spooky Week video is on the computer, ready to post tomorrow.”

Phil nodded, all business again. Clearly their little personal moment was over. “I’ll upload it,” he promised, then hesitated. “When do you want to come by to film the PINOF?”

Dan was looking uncomfortable again, scuffing his toe against the carpet. He looked around at the lounge, not making eye contact. “Uh … maybe next week? How’s Tuesday for you?”

Nodding again, Phil said, “That should work.” They agreed on a time, and Phil found himself looking forward to it more than he probably should.

*

When Dan arrived for the PINOF filming, Phil could tell he was feeling apprehensive. They didn’t really greet each other beyond polite nods and noncommittal noises, and it was weird to be walking together into Phil’s bedroom with such emotional distance between them. Phil set up the camera and equipment while Dan hovered uncomfortably near the door.

“Come here a minute,” Phil said, sitting on the bed and patting the space beside him. Dan perched on the edge of the mattress, looking ready to bolt. “We’ve been friends for a long time now, right? And there have been lots of good times. Lots of times we laughed so hard we fell off the furniture. So let’s just take a minute and remember that, okay? Think about all the good times. Just breathe, and think about the good times for a minute, and we can do this.”

Dan nodded slightly, closing his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, and then smiling weakly at Phil. “I’m sorry I’m making this so difficult.”

Phil smiled a little and shrugged. “I can tell it isn’t easy for you, either. But we can do this. Just … try to have fun, okay?”

Dan nodded more firmly this time. “Okay. I’m ready.”

*

It wasn’t the best PINOF they’d ever done, and some subscribers noticed and commented that they seemed less into it than usual, that they seemed to sit further apart and didn’t interact as much, but Dan and Phil both just let the criticisms and questions go unanswered, tweeting exclusively about the upcoming TATINOF dates, pretending an excitement that neither truly felt.

Touring together right now was going to be hell. At least it wasn’t going to be as long as the U.S. tour. At least they wouldn’t be stuck on a tour bus together, as they’d be flying between the different locations. 21 November to 6 December … they could survive two and a half weeks, right?

Chapter Text

Dan had learned from the best. This was true in many ways and about many things, but in this particular case it was something that was coming in very handy: the Fake-Not-Fake Smile. Phil was an expert at it, and Dan had eventually mastered it as well, though he didn’t feel the need to use it perhaps as often as Phil did, since he tended to foster a rather curmudgeonly persona in his videos, unlike Phil’s perpetually cheerful demeanor.

But on the European leg of TATINOF, it was invaluable.

The Fake-Not-Fake smile was something he’d seen Phil use extensively in the years they’d known each other. Phil used it when necessary if he was upset, or in pain, or angry, or otherwise not feeling like Phil-the-Literal-Ray-of-Sunshine. He didn’t like to let his viewers see him in a bad mood, because he wanted to always be a cheering presence in people’s lives.

It was a form of fraud, in a way, but as the name implied, it was not entirely fake. It was the Fake-Not-Fake Smile because Phil could always reach inside himself and find something good, something happy, something that could put an honest smile on his face, even if only for the length of filming a video or even just for the moment to greet and hug an excited subscriber who surprised him on the street.

On this final portion of the TATINOF tour, Dan was becoming more proficient at the Fake-Not-Fake Smile. He’d already had a lot of practice—posing for cheeky selfies with fans in the airport after spraying deodorant in his eye, for example—but on the tour he was coming to appreciate how very hard it must be sometimes for Phil, and how selfless it was. It wasn’t really lying, not really being a fraud—it was finding that little kernel inside yourself that appreciated the love your fans felt, the way they looked up to you and wanted to emulate you, and then using that tiny kernel of your own love for those people to put a smile on your face.

But the tour was painful. Every day, every minute.

Phil had clearly made some requests of their staff, because all three venues gave them separate dressing rooms this time, which they hadn’t bothered with in the UK, North America, or Australia. They still had to spend a lot of pre-show time together, discussing details and preparing, but they each had a private place to go to get away from the other, something they really hadn’t felt a need for during those earlier months of the tour.

Dan was glad to have the privacy, because playing his role as merely half of the brand that was “Dan and Phil” had become exhausting and depressing. He found ways to locate that Fake-Not-Fake smile for all the meet-and-greets and the publicity events and the show itself, but inside he just wanted to crawl back under his black-and-white duvet and make it all stop again.

Phil, on the other hand, was being so … Phil-like about the whole thing that Dan felt like the most ungrateful wretch in the universe. There’d been no more yelling, no more anger or recriminations. No blame. Phil smiled at him when they were in the same room, and sometimes it even looked like his real, genuine smile and not just the Fake-Not-Fake version. Phil was just being so … nice. It made Dan want to hit himself across the head with a saucepan for being such an asshole. But it also made him all the more determined to follow through on his decision, because if Phil could try to be there for him now, after everything they’d said to each other, after everything Dan had said, then Dan knew he certainly didn’t deserve a friend like that, and Phil didn’t deserve to have to put up with someone like him.

In one of his live shows before the tour, Phil had mentioned wanting to check out the Christmas markets in Germany, and so Dan had hesitantly approached Phil’s dressing room after the evening show in Berlin to make a friendly overture, a sort of peace offering to show that he didn’t hate Phil or even want to dissolve their friendship. He just wanted to dissolve the joint branding and have his own independent career. So, high on adrenaline after the show, feeling more optimistic and positive than usual, he went to knock on Phil’s door to see if he’d like to visit some of the Christmas markets together the next day.

But before he could even raise his hand to knock on the door, he realized that he could hear weeping on the other side. He could hear Phil crying, and not quietly, either. Sobs loud enough to be heard through the door. And Dan thought of all those smiles Phil had been giving him on the tour and felt like a complete dick. If he suggested going to the markets together, Phil would certainly say yes, because he was too nice that way, but then Dan would be putting him through hours of Fake-Not-Fake Smiles, and he decided he didn’t want to subject Phil to that. He still cared about him enough to not want to make this any more painful than it already was. So he turned and walked slowly back to his own dressing room, his post-show hyperactivity doused as if by a bucket of ice water. And he left Phil to his privacy and his unobserved tears.

The shows themselves were painful. Dan had to pretend enthusiasm for the joint branding, and after so many performances he now knew the script well enough that his mind could wander a bit even while he spoke his lines in the right places, and his mind often wandered to dark places, thinking about how hypocritical this all was, how he was dredging up the true darkness inside of him purely for laughs, how his whole point was that he wanted to start being more authentically himself and here he was doing the exact opposite.

During Phil’s “Weird Kid” segment, Dan didn’t open his laptop anymore. Instead, he drank from a bottle of water while he watched Phil on the stage—listening to that familiarly bright, happy voice—and just let himself remember their good times. He wasn’t on stage, wasn’t being watched, didn’t have to play any kind of role, didn’t have to be part of the “brand”—he could just be Dan, watching Phil being Phil, which was how this whole thing started, and they felt like the only truly genuine moments of the tour for him.

The PINOF segment was particularly painful, since Dan didn’t think there were likely to be any more PINOFs in actuality, and so the whole thing felt like the biggest lie of the entire show. And every time Phil asked him the scripted question, “What is your favorite memory?” and Dan replied, “From my whole life?” … Dan followed the script by rote—he knew it well enough for that—but in the quiet of his own mind, he let himself remember that first warm hug in a train station so many years ago. And when Phil asked, “And what is your worst memory?” Dan answered out loud as he was supposed to, according to the script, but the image in his mind was of that awful argument in their lounge, and the hurt on Phil’s face when Dan said he was moving out.

The most excruciating part of the show, though, was the “Existential Crisis” segment. Even in the hours and days between the shows, Dan could hear the familiar lines from the script running through his mind: “To think that we’ll be doing exactly the same thing for another 68 years? I mean, okay, okay, I guess that isn’t a BAD thing, but does that mean that nothing else happens? We’re just stuck repeating the same old things? What if we never break the mould, Phil? What if we never find the courage to attempt something new and exciting that we’ve never tried before?” It felt so ironic that these were the lines that preceded Dan’s mock crisis in the show, since they were so similar to the thoughts that had led to a real crisis and his decision to change things in his real life and career. Onstage, Phil sat down and talked him through it, something that had happened so many times in reality, but this time the real world crisis wasn’t something Phil could just talk him out of, and so Phil’s gentle line in the show—“But … we can’t lose you now, Dan”—broke his heart a little every time he heard it, especially with the new bleakness in Phil’s voice that probably no one but Dan would notice.

Every time they ended the show with “The Internet Is Here,” the entire audience was singing along, which was markedly different from the first legs of the tour, but not necessarily in a bad way. It felt like he and Phil were performing the musical number with their community, instead of just for them. It felt, to Dan, like a fitting bookend for the way he was planning to change things moving forward. And the amount of eye contact he and Phil made during the song had only increased, strangely enough. Dan would have expected Phil to be shying away from meeting his gaze, but Phil looked at him frequently throughout the song each time they sang it, and he smiled in a way that looked completely genuine, definitely not Fake-Not-Fake, and during their prolonged eye contact during “Without the Internet, we never would have met,” Phil seemed to be looking at him with pride and admiration, and it made Dan blush every time. It made him wonder if maybe Phil actually understood why he was making these changes, and maybe Phil could actually be proud of his decision to take his future into his own hands. Maybe he was just projecting some of that, maybe it was just wishful thinking, but he definitely wasn’t imagining the warmth of Phil’s eyes and smile, and that was something he clung to.

And then the final show in Stockholm had ended, and the tour was over. Just like that. It was time to head home. Time to start building his new independent “brand,” start filming some videos that were more focused on the real-world moral and ethical issues that really mattered to him. He was considering waiting until after Christmas, especially as—now that the tour was finished—he would finally have time to start looking for a new flat, and moving would take time and effort. After the final show, Dan sat in his lonely dressing room and thought about everything he had ahead of him, and it was simultaneously daunting and exciting. Time to grow up, Danny boy, he thought to himself.

On the plane home from Sweden, he and Phil somehow ended up with seats that weren’t together, which was an absolute first. Phil was several rows behind him, leaving Dan sitting beside a businesswoman who thankfully spent the entire flight on her laptop, leaving Dan free to watch the anime he’d queued up in advance without having to deflect any inane small talk.

But Dan found himself wondering why they were seated so far apart for the first time ever, and came to the painful conclusion that Phil had probably requested it without telling him. He felt rejected and sad, but he also felt like he deserved the snub.

He’d been the one to decide to move out. He didn’t deserve Phil’s friendship anymore. All he deserved was Phil’s Fake-Not-Fake Smile that hid what he was truly feeling, just like Phil would give to any stranger on the street.

Chapter Text

The tour had been excruciating.

Phil had spoken to the staff in advance to make sure that he and Dan had separate dressing rooms and separate hotel rooms at every location. None of those hotel rooms with twin beds like they’d had so often in America, or even rooms with connecting doors. He wanted to make sure that Dan could feel as independent as possible while he still felt forced to behave publicly as if he was an enthusiastic part of the “Dan and Phil” branding.

Phil hated that Dan was having to do this, but it had been too late to back out by the time Dan had spoken to him about his feelings, and they’d been trying for a year to obtain venues in Europe, so it would have seemed churlish to turn their backs on them when they had finally procured some. And he knew their European fans would be happy, which was the main thing.

But he wished there was some way the fans could be happy, and Dan could be happy, all at the same time. Right now that seemed impossible.

And when the fans realized that Dan was moving out of the flat, there was going to be a shitstorm of epic proportions. So Phil had decided that he would move out as well, to make it look like a joint decision instead of an abandonment.

The flat was too full of memories, anyway. He didn’t want to stay there.

So when they finished the tour and got off the plane at Heathrow, he pulled Dan aside at the baggage claim. “I’ll be moving out of the flat, too,” he said quietly, not wanting anyone else to overhear. “I’ll put my stuff in storage until I find a place, and I’ll find somewhere else to stay until then, so you can come by to get your things anytime that’s convenient. I won’t … I won’t be there, so you won’t have to worry about that.’

Dan looked stricken for a moment, and his mouth opened and closed a few times before he got any words out. “You don’t have to … It’s not like I’m trying to …”

But Phil just smiled a little and shook his head. “It’s fine, Dan. Don’t worry so much. If I move out at the same time, we can just make it look like something we decided together, and the fans won’t be as upset.”

Dan looked down at the floor, and his eyes looked a bit shiny in the glaring airport lights, as if he were trying not to cry. Phil awkwardly patted his arm. “It’ll be okay.” He tried another smile. He wasn’t sure how successful it was, but he’d been trying this whole tour to make this experience as painless as possible for Dan. He’d seen the misery on his face, the desperate attempts to smile warmly for fans, and he knew this had been hard. Knowing it was hard on Dan made it hard on Phil, too. Getting back to London and figuring out how to move forward … without Dan … would almost be a relief. At least they could stop pretending every minute of the day.

*

In the end, he ended up asking Felix and Marzia if he could stay with them in Brighton for a few weeks until it was time to go visit his family for the Christmas holidays. Usually, this was his favorite time of year, but as he boxed up his belongings at the flat and tried to divide his own things from Dan’s—a nearly impossible task, as they’d bought and received so many things together, so Phil had erred on the side of caution and left almost all jointly-owned things in the flat for Dan when he came to pack up—he wasn’t much in the mood for mulled wine or Christmas trees.

He’d have gone home directly to just stay with his family, but Felix and Marzia’s home in Brighton was near enough to London that he could conduct his flat search while staying with them and make trips in to town when necessary to look at the more likely prospects. He had an agent helping him look, and she just phoned him to tell him about places she’d found, and he took the train to London a couple times when she described places that sounded acceptable. On the second trip, he decided that the place was okay and signed a lease to take possession January 1. It was a relief to have that settled, anyway.

Felix and Marzia had immediately picked up on his mood when he arrived, and so they didn’t ask too many questions or try to smother him with attention. They just hung out with him when he felt like it, watching horror movies under comfy afghans and sharing pizza and … other home-type things he used to do with Dan.

And they let him go for long solitary walks along the seaside, where he remembered going to Jamaica with Dan so many years ago, and how Dan had hobbit hair almost the whole time but for once didn’t seem to mind, because he enjoyed swimming in the sea so much that it was apparently worth the sacrifice to his dignity. Phil had always liked seeing Dan’s hair all curly, because it was like seeing the real Dan, a Dan who wasn’t so carefully prepared and presented and aware of public scrutiny, a Dan who was just laughing and smiling and being unapologetically himself.

He’d been more like that, those first couple years of their friendship. He’d seemed unafraid to throw an arm around Phil’s shoulders or waist, to make spontaneous gestures of affection and comradeship, to talk about the things he wanted in life and listen to Phil’s encouragements that he try to get them.

Somewhere along the way, somewhere around 2012, he’d become more reserved. Phil knew that all the fan shipping had gotten to him, prompting him to distance himself from Phil to some extent, and that had hurt, but it had been okay, because they still lived together and made it work. He’d thought they’d made it work, anyway, but apparently Dan had stopped talking to him about his dreams and aspirations, because he’d caught Phil totally by surprise with his decision to move out.

Phil sat on a rock overlooking the grey ocean and just breathed in the salt air to calm his racing heart. That had been the worst moment of his life, realizing that Dan had been silently wanting to escape their partnership without even telling Phil, and Phil had no idea how long Dan had been feeling that way before he’d finally snapped and spoken about it. Had it been only since the end of the U.S. tour? Had it been weeks? Months? God forbid … years? Had it been since 2012? Had Dan just been pretending all those happy moments together, all those hours playing video games and watching anime and making baking videos and laughing and smiling at him and nudging his shoulder and sitting beside him on the couch? How much of that had been just Phil seeing what he wanted to see?

Dan had been so young when they’d first met, had doubted himself so intensely, and Phil had done his best to give the boy confidence. He’d known how miserable Dan was at uni, how mired in the belief that he had to do what was expected of him, what his parents wanted—and when Dan had seemed so excited to leave uni and give the YouTube thing a serious try, for them to get a flat together in Manchester, Phil had found his youthful excitement contagious. It had seemed like a grand adventure, even more so when they decided to take a big chance on moving to London, which had turned out wonderfully for their careers, allowing them to take on the weekly radio show at the BBC and appear at numerous red carpet events and make a real name for themselves.

And therein lay the rub. They’d made A name for themselves. A single name: “Dan-and-Phil,” best single blogger at the Teen Choice awards. And they’d started the process when Dan was too young to realize how it might snowball, what it might mean for him in the long run. Dan had been so young and vulnerable, so impressionable and desperate for validation. Phil was older—he should have realized. He should have given Dan more of a chance to make a separate name for himself. Maybe when BBC Radio1 had offered him the radio show, he shouldn’t have asked for Dan to join him. Would it have been better if Phil had done the radio show alone, giving Dan the time to pursue his own projects? At the time, Phil had thought it would be good, that it would give Dan more exposure, but mostly just that it would be more fun with Dan by his side.

Now he wondered how much he’d impeded Dan’s personal growth as a young man by doing everything he could to keep his friend close. He’d been selfish, there was no doubt about that.

He gazed out at the sea, feeling morose and guilty, doubting that any amount of friendship would remain between them after all this.

He didn’t want to walk back to Felix and Marzia’s house, because it was festooned with Christmas decorations, and it only reminded him of all the times he and Dan had decorated together. Dan loved Christmas. They both had. But this year, Phil felt numb to all the cheery celebrations. He just wanted to be alone.

He was going to be alone a lot in the future.

Felix and Marzia—Marzia especially—had been doing everything they could to comfort him without pressing for details, but he knew they wondered what was going on. He’d told them only that he and Dan had decided to move out of the flat, and that they were still friends, of course they were still friends—of course!—but they’d decided it would be best to get their own places now. Flats in London were just too small, and they didn’t have enough storage, and of course they would see each other all the time, but they just needed their own spaces.

In reality, Phil doubted they’d see each other much. Maybe at YouTube events. Maybe Summer in the City and Vidcon and the YouTube Rewind. He really hoped the organizers wouldn’t pressure them to appear together and would allow Dan to do his independent thing.

To be honest, he was very curious to see what kind of videos Dan was planning to make. Maybe he could get to know the “real” Dan of today—no longer that hobbit-haired waif in Jamaica—by watching his videos with the rest of the world. Maybe Dan would share more with him on YouTube than he had been for the past few years living in the same flat.

The thought was depressing, but Phil felt vaguely hopeful at the same time. He wanted Dan to succeed, even if it was without Phil, and he wanted to see what that would look like … what a strong, independent, adult Dan would look like. He thought briefly that he would like to take some credit for helping Dan get to this point, that his encouraging Dan to follow his dreams had given him the strength and courage to make this eventual decision to leave Phil behind and venture forth on his own, but really he knew that the strength and courage had been inside Dan all along, and he would have gotten here eventually even without Phil’s help.

It was freezing on the beach in December, but Phil could barely feel it. He hugged his knees to his chest and closed his eyes, picturing Dan smiling at him in the stage show while they were singing “The Internet Is Here.” In those moments it had sometimes been easy to just let himself forget that it was all a sham now, let himself just believe that Dan meant those smiles, that those bright and shining eyes were meant for him and not just an act for the crowd.

He rested his head on his knees, sighing and feeling tears welling up again. He’d cried more these past few weeks than at any other time in his life he could remember. He lifted his head and pressed his hands to his eyes, determined to stop wallowing in misery.

Dan was going to have an independent career, create his own independent brand, and Phil would need to do the same thing. They’d put the radio show on hiatus while touring, but tomorrow Phil would call their producer at the BBC and ask about that initial proposal they’d made for him to do a radio show of his own. He knew it wouldn’t be as popular as the joint show he and Dan had done, but the BBC might be willing to do it when the other was no longer an option.

And maybe he could make a Christmassy video here in Brighton. He hadn’t posted anything in a while, and his subscribers were probably wondering what was going on. He wouldn’t tell them anything about Dan, or about leaving the flat, but perhaps he could make some sort of humorously festive video with Felix and Marzia and the pugs. Yes, that sounded like a good idea. It would help get him out of this funk, and it would reassure not only his subscribers but also Felix and Marzia, who he knew were worried about all his moping.

He had a flat to move to after Christmas. He had a notebook of video ideas for his own channel that didn’t need to involve Dan at all. He had a plan to talk to their producer at Radio1. He was going to do this. On his own. If Dan could do it, so could Phil.

*

In Rawtenstall on Christmas Day, he stepped aside from his family for a moment to send Dan a single text, their first contact since leaving the airport in separate cabs after the end of the tour:

Happy Christmas

And Dan replied a few moments later, but only typed:

same

Disappointed, Phil put his phone away and didn’t text again.

*

When he went to collect his things at the beginning of January, he had the removers take them from the storage unit to the new flat, but he wished he could make one last stop at the old flat as well. Unfortunately, they’d terminated their lease at the end of December.

Phil wondered if Dan had taken all the mutual possessions he’d left behind for him. He imagined Dan packing up his things and leaving the onesies hanging in the closet, the old plushies sitting deserted on an empty floor in an empty bedroom. He imagined the landlord coming in to clear out any remaining rubbish and throwing these once-cherished belongings into the bin before having the flat cleaned and repainted for the new tenants.

He didn’t cry. He was done with crying. It was time for him to move on, too.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6
Alone At Last

Dan had never lived properly alone before. He’d had the one year at uni, but that had really been like just having a bedroom in a huge flat with dozens of obnoxious flatmates always around, and he’d spent most evenings on Skype with Phil, so he hadn’t felt like he was really alone.

Now he certainly did.

His new flat was filled with boxes and a remarkable amount of furniture, as Phil had apparently chosen to leave most of their jointly-owned property for Dan to take. They hadn’t discussed it, but when Dan went to collect his things, all of Phil’s had been gone, but it looked like everything they’d bought and assembled together or received as joint gifts was all still there. Dan didn’t take any of it until December 31, the very last day of their lease, when he went back by the flat to check and saw that Phil still had not come to collect any of their lounge furniture or even their computer or the filming equipment.

He’d texted Phil immediately:

You can’t just give me a fucking computer. Or all the other stuff, either.

But Phil had only responded:

Happy Christmas

It reminded Dan of the text he’d received on Christmas Day when he was with his family. He hadn’t known how to respond, since he and Phil hadn’t spoken in weeks. Normally, when feeling that waffly, he would have just procrastinated responding and probably eventually forgotten … but this was Phil, and Phil deserved better than that. In the end, Dan had decided to text back, but all he could think of to say was:

same

He cringed every time he thought of it. Phil had probably thought he was blowing him off, but Dan just had drawn a blank and panicked. There was too much to say, and texting really wasn’t the right medium, but … he’d had to say something. So he sent that complete fail of a text message and had been regretting it ever since.

Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. The sofa was covered in boxes, so he sat on the carpet of what would eventually be his lounge and started texting:

Sorry I was a dick at Christmas

The answering text was almost immediate:

You’re forgiven, bear

The old nickname nearly brought tears to his eyes.

I could have at least sent some emojis or something

Phil didn’t respond for a few moments, so Dan added:

I saw your Brighton video. The pugs were cute.

Phil had been cute, too, but Dan wasn’t going to write that in a text. Tone was too easy to misinterpret, and he didn’t want to make things awkward when they were finally talking again. Well, texting at least.

When are YOU going to upload something?

Dan looked around again at the chaos of boxes around him, then replied:

When I have some sort of background that doesn’t involve cardboard

Phil replied quickly:

Need help settling in?

And oh … it was tempting! He imagined Phil here, helping him sort through his haphazardly-packed belongings, making jokes, laughing his silly laugh with his tongue showing, making Dan laugh … but no. He was going to do this on his own.

Thanks, but I think I can manage

Did that sound too dismissive? Phil was being really nice about everything.

But, really, thanks

No problem. Good luck with the unpacking and the new video.

That sounded like a polite attempt to end the conversation, so Dan just texted back a quick “thanks” before putting his phone back in his pocket. He leaned back against the sofa and surveyed his new domain, and it suddenly seemed a little less daunting. Phil had faith in him. He just needed to figure out how to have faith in himself, too.

*

It turned out that never leaving the house feels very different when you live alone.

Dan had gotten about half of his stuff unpacked—enough that he could prepare a meal and sit on the sofa to eat it—but had been spending a lot of the rest of his time playing video games and scrolling through Tumblr. He realized at one point that he hadn’t left the house in a week. Okay, that wasn’t entirely unusual for him, but … he realized he hadn’t spoken to anyone in a week, either. That made it seem a lot less healthy than back when he and Phil would just hang out together for days on end.

But he just felt so overwhelmed by all the things he still needed to do—finish unpacking, film a video about his intentions for his channel moving forward—and Phil’s birthday had passed without him even remembering to send him a text. God he was a crap friend. Not that he was even sure they were still friends at this point, given that they hadn’t actually spoken in months. Did texts even count? Probably not when you didn’t send one on your supposed friend’s 30th fucking birthday. He’d texted a couple days later, and Phil had been nice about it, but Dan knew that what he’d done hadn’t been right.

So now he found himself sitting on his sofa with a PS4 controller in his hands and a glass of Ribena on the side table, and he realized that he hadn’t showered in at least a week. And he wasn’t sure if he’d eaten today. And he’d only left the sofa to make trips to the fridge and the toilet. And it was going on 3 a.m.

And he’d sort of lost count of how many times this had happened in the last couple months.

Always before, he’d had something to get him moving: school, or a job, or … or just … Phil. But now that he had to rely solely on his own motivation to get him moving, he realized that he’d been spending weeks just doing nothing. Not even planning videos or cooking a fucking stir-fry. He’d been living on pizza and ignoring his phone and just tuning out when he wasn’t sleeping. Even he could tell it wasn’t healthy.

And he wasn’t happy. He felt Phil’s absence like a missing limb, and nothing seemed interesting or fun anymore. He was just existing, and not even doing a particularly good job at that.

Wasn’t he supposed to be proving something? Wasn’t he supposed to be finally doing something meaningful with his life? This didn’t look particularly meaningful. He decided that getting some sleep would be a good start, and in the morning he would get things set up in his bedroom so that he had a decent background to finally film a video.

*

He decided to just be completely honest. Phil had given him an out, offering to present Dan’s moving out as a mutual decision, but Dan was sick to death of lying and he just wanted to come clean about how he felt and what he wanted to do with his life.

So he made a video in which he ironically brandished a cordless power drill, which he’d bought exclusively for the purpose and would probably never actually even take out of the box—he didn’t think he and Phil had ever used the one Phil’s dad had bought him—but it was like a symbol that said, “I’m a MAN now!” and he liked that it harked back to the earlier video he’d made with Phil.

He tried to explain in the video about wanting to make his life really mean something, that it’s up to each of us to make our lives matter in some way, that he wanted to make videos about things that were more important than just funny stories about why he’s a fail. He explained why he’d felt that he needed to get his own flat and try to figure out who he was on his own. It was more earnest and honest and heart-felt than anything else he’d ever put on the Internet. After a ridiculous amount of obsessing over the edits, he finally decided it was finished, and he uploaded it.

The hate began flowing in within moments. Not only in the YouTube comments, but also on Twitter and Tumblr, his followers were screaming about how ungrateful he was after everything Phil had done for him, how he thought he was a big shot now that he had more subscribers. People were posting gifs of Phil slapping him in the YouTubers React episode, Phil hitting him over the head with a bottle in the Slo-As-A-MoFo-Show … while others were posting the opposite gifs, the ones of Dan slapping Phil and hitting him with a bottle. And Dan noticed that Phil always looked really reluctant and sorry, while Dan looked like a mean motherfucker. Phil had always been willing to play along, always game to try something even if it made him uncomfortable, but he didn’t like to hurt people, and he especially didn’t like to hurt Dan, while Dan never showed any evidence of the same hesitation. And their followers were pointing this out in no uncertain terms. Over and over again. Dan was definitely the villain in this story, and Phil his innocent victim.

What hurt the most were the followers who said they wished they hadn’t gone to TATINOF shows, or that they wished they hadn’t bought the charity single, or that they wished they hadn’t encouraged friends to watch his videos, thereby contributing to the increase in his subscriber numbers. People wishing that they could take back the support that had meant so much to him.

And many of them did. His number of subscribers dropped by more than 2 million overnight.

Dan couldn’t take it. He was already feeling frighteningly exposed after revealing so much about what he really wanted out of life and how hard it had been to choose to go after it … for a second time, this time without anyone holding his hand to make it easier. To be hit with all this vitriol when he was at his most vulnerable and most alone … he just couldn’t take it.

He went to his bedroom, one of the few rooms in the flat that was fairly habitable—since he had unpacked and decorated it well enough to film the infamous video here—and turned on the fairy lights that kept the dark at bay … and closed all the curtains … and stripped down to his boxers … and crawled into the bed with his Tonberry plushie and his phone … and then he just played Rolling Sky. He didn’t log on to Gmail or YouTube or Twitter or Tumblr or any of his online sites. He turned off all notifications, including calls and texts. He just … slept when the phone needed charging … and played Rolling Sky in bed when he was awake. Or just stared at the wall and tried not to think. He didn’t shower. He didn’t eat. He didn’t want to face the world in any way, shape, or form. When he slept, he pulled the duvet over his head and pretended that nothing outside that womblike space existed.

And that went on for three days.

*

He’d gone so long without food that he wasn’t even hungry anymore. In fact, he instead felt nauseated in a way that made eating very low on his list of priorities.

He wondered if maybe he could just stay in bed for the rest of his life and never have to deal with other people ever again. It sounded perfect.

In a moment of utmost stupidity, he had revealed just a tiny bit of the true Dan from underneath the mask, and the world’s reaction had been even worse than he would have predicted. He’d known that no one could respect or admire or love the true Dan, so why had he even tried?

He went back to bed and shut off his brain, pulling the duvet over his head and trying to lose himself in sleep again. He wasn’t even interested in Rolling Sky anymore.

He’d lost count of how many days it had been now.

*

He’d had other times like this. Other times when he withdrew from the world and decided that he would rather never have to be himself again, because he couldn’t find anything worth being in that person, that Dan. He knew everyone agreed with him now, and so it was easy to spiral further and further down into that pit of darkness.

He’d mocked it so many times in his videos, in the stage show, in his live shows: the “Existential Crisis,” the “darkness of his soul,” all that. But he always talked about it dismissively, jokingly, because he knew no one would really understand the appeal of just losing himself in that nothingness, the call of that meaningless emptiness.

But always before, someone had been there to metaphorically take his hand and help pull him out of it. First his parents, and then Phil. Now he had no one. He had only himself to blame for that, of course. And blame himself he did. Ad nauseum. He’d driven everyone away, and then posted a big “Fuck You” video for the world to see, for everyone to see what a dick he really was, how much he’d never deserved Phil’s friendship or the love of his subscribers. Now all those people who had hugged him so warmly at years of meet-and-greets knew what he was really like, and they hated him. But not as much as he hated himself. Because that was impossible. No one else could possibly hate him more than that.

*

He felt weak and dizzy when he woke up one morning—was it morning?—and tried to roll over in bed. His thoughts were sluggish, and he was really really thirsty. When had he last drunk anything? He hadn’t been leaving the bedroom very often anymore, not even to go to the toilet, which probably meant he wasn’t drinking enough. He staggered to the kitchen and got a glass from the cabinet, intending to get some water from the tap. But his hand was so weak and trembling that he dropped the glass on the tile floor and it shattered.

And, suddenly, so did Dan. He started sobbing, his composure shattering just like the glass had. He couldn’t deal with this. He clutched the kitchen counter with a shaking hand and wondered what the hell he was going to do. He was standing there in a filthy pair of boxers, reeking from so many days without bathing, too weak to clean up a bit of broken glass. Hated by everyone who had once seemed to love him. But they’d only loved the mask, not the true Dan underneath. And now it was all gone. And the floor was covered in smashed glass, just like the rest of his life stretching before him. And so he just sobbed and sobbed, feeling helpless and hopeless and overwhelmed by how far things had gotten out of hand.

He wished Phil were here. Phil would clean up the glass, and he would put an arm around Dan to help him walk, and he would get him a glass of water and put him back to bed and put the Tonberry plushie into his arms and tell him that everything would be better when he woke up. And it would, because Phil made everything better, just by being Phil.

Leaning against the counter with all his weight now, Dan had a sudden deliriously dehydrated epiphany. There was a reason he hadn’t really dated anyone in the 5 years that he and Phil had lived together. He hadn’t needed anyone else. All he needed was Phil. He loved Phil.

And he’d pushed him away.

What kind of moron was he, pushing away the best thing that had ever come into his life? Those tweets and Tumblr posts were absolutely right. He’d joked about being “Phil Trash #1,” but really he was just trash, full stop.

The tears wouldn’t stop.

What was he going to do about the glass? His body was so weak that he didn’t think he’d be able to clean it up even if he tried. He could … he could call Phil. Phil would help him. Phil would come over, and Phil would see what needed doing, and Phil would help him.

But he couldn’t call Phil. He’d burned that bridge. They were barely even texting each other. But Dan didn’t have any other friends, no one else to turn to.

He found himself walking carefully across the kitchen floor, holding tight to the counter and trying to avoid the larger pieces of glass. He could feel smaller slivers digging into the sensitive balls and arches of his feet as he staggered across the tile, but he needed to get to his phone. There was one person he thought he could call, one person who would probably help him, one person who might not think he was irredeemable trash.

The tiny shards of glass worked their way further into his skin as he gingerly walked down the hallway, supporting himself with a hand on the wall, until he finally made it to the bedroom … and the phone. He scrolled through his contacts until he found the name he was looking for, and then he dialed.

When the familiar voice answered, Dan sobbed again with relief. “Louise? Louise, I think … I need help.”

Chapter Text

“Hi guys!” Phil gives his trademark wave and smiles from the computer screen, but the smile doesn’t seem as bright as usual. “Seen any good videos lately?” His eyes are wide, his mouth twisted to the side in a wry smirk as he lets the audience think about that for a moment.

“Because I happened to see this interesting video on danisnotonfire’s channel yesterday, and I thought it was really brave and inspiring.” He tilts his head to the side and pensively rolls his eyes up toward the ceiling for a moment, then looks directly into the camera again when he adds, “Apparently, not everyone felt that way.” A montage of many mean tweets piling on top of each other fills the screen for a moment. And then the camera is back on Phil’s serious face.

“I try to keep the content of this channel upbeat, and I usually don’t talk about things that are bothering me, but when I see people being mean to someone—to anyone, really, but especially to the person who has been my best and closest friend for eight years—well…” A dramatic sound effect booms and Phil puts on his best intimidating face. “That’s when you meet AmazingPhil’s alter-ego, AmazinglyAngryPhil.” He scowls, and the booming sound reverberates again, the camera zooming in and out repeatedly on his exaggerated frown.

“People have been saying a lot of things about Dan for the past couple days, and most of them are absolute rubbish. First of all, that rumor that he eats live babies?” An image of a dozen adorable, crying babies, photoshopped with a derpy picture of Dan roaring in his dinosaur costume, appears on the screen as Phil intones, “Definitely not true. I lived with him for five years, and I can guarantee that I would have noticed any baby eating. I did see him eat some gingerbread men once, but I don’t think we can really blame him for that.” A close up of Phil’s face, lost in thought, eyes glazed with ecstasy as he looks vaguely into the upper right distance and clasps his hands together in front of him. “Mmmmm. Gingerbread…” He licks his lips and makes a smacking sound, then glances back at the camera and clears his throat in mock self-consciousness.

Then his serious face is back. He shakes his head slowly in disapproval as he says, “And those stories about him causing global warming…” A cheesily photoshopped image of the earth in flames accompanies Phil’s voice saying, “Well, I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure those are fake, too.” Back to Phil’s wide-eyed, innocent stare. “He’s called danisNOTonfire, after all, and the name isn’t just a clever ploy. Once again, as his longtime flatmate I can assure you that he has no heat-related powers except a talent for starting a fire in the grate on a cold winter day. In fact, that boy is constantly bundled into jumpers that cover his hands, because he’s always cold. And let me tell you, it takes effort to find jumpers with sleeves long enough to cover your hands when you’ve got arms as long as ours!” An image of Big Foot with Dan’s face photoshopped onto it appears on the screen. A bright green jumper has been crudely drawn onto the yeti’s body, apparently with MacPaint. The sleeves are long enough to half-cover Big Foot’s hands.

“No, danisnotonfire, also known as my friend Dan Howell, is not a baby eater or a global warmer. Dan Howell isn’t even a selfish git or a bad friend or any of the other things you’ve probably been hearing about him lately.”

“I’ll tell you who Dan Howell is: Dan Howell is the kindest and bravest person I’ve ever known. He’s someone who isn’t afraid to take scary risks in order to pursue his dreams, and that’s something I think we can all respect and admire.”

“When Dan decided to leave university for a career on YouTube,” (an image of a young, hobbit-haired Dan wearing a llama hat pops up in the upper left corner of the screen) “everybody thought he was crazy. Uni was the obvious course his family and friends thought he should be on, but Dan figured out that it wasn’t right for him. He needed something else, and he had the courage to make that something else happen.” A brief, silent clip of Dan and Phil onstage at TATINOF, grinning, with confetti falling all around them fills the screen entirely for a moment before Phil’s intent face is back.

“And that’s what Dan’s doing RIGHT NOW. Sure, it would have been easier to do what everybody else thought was the best thing, the smart thing, the obvious thing, and just keep on the same course—but Dan was brave enough to be honest with himself and with the entire Internet about the fact that he wanted to try something different. And that’s something we can all learn from, because I want all of you to know that it’s okay to be different! It’s okay if you don’t want to follow the path everyone else has laid out for you! Find your own dreams and follow them! Don’t let haters stop you!”

“That’s what Dan Howell has taught me. He’s taught me that following the path that is right for you might not always be the most popular choice, but that’s what makes it brave.”

“I’m not always the bravest person.” (An image of a horse enters the left side of the screen and Phil cringes away from it, making a face of horror, then turns to face the camera again, grimacing, as the horse moves back out of frame.) “I tend to go with the flow and not want to make waves—I hate to feel like I’ve upset or disappointed anybody—but I can’t help but wish I could be a little more like Dan Howell, more willing to take big risks to follow my heart.”

“Because that’s what makes someone a hero. It isn’t a cape or an adamantine skeleton.” (An image of Dan with Wolverine’s claws photoshopped onto his hands appears on screen for a moment.) “It’s the willingness to do the right thing even when it’s hard. That’s what Dan is doing right now, and that’s why he’s a hero in my book. And that’s why we should all give him a break, give him a little credit, and give him a lot of support. Isn’t that what you would want if you were trying something new and scary?”

“In short, in my opinion, we should all feel honoured that Dan trusted and respected us enough to tell us the truth and let us in on this new thing he’s trying out. And we should support him every way we can.”

An image of Dan’s face appears on the left side of the screen, while Phil’s still-talking face is on the right. “So click on Dan’s face to subscribe to his channel.” Phil gestures like a gameshow hostess at Dan’s photo, both hands moving gracefully. “And I really do recommend that you subscribe to his channel, because he’s the best.” Phil then frames his own face with both hands in an adorable pose. “Or click on my face to subscribe to my channel and see more of my videos, which usually aren’t as serious as this.”

Dan’s photo disappears and the camera centers on Phil’s smiling face for a moment, but his smile is no longer dimmed, now bright as usual again, as he says, “Thanks for listening, everybody. See you next time. Bye!” And he waves his hand in an exaggerated gesture before moving his palm to cover the camera lens as the video ends.

Chapter Text

Phil had been so proud of Dan when he watched that video, so impressed with Dan’s composure and maturity, with his ability to maintain his dry sense of humour while talking about something so important to him. Most of all, he’d been impressed with Dan’s openness as he’d heard him talk about all the feelings and hopes he’d apparently been keeping inside while living with Phil. It had hurt, too—he could admit that, at least to himself—but it had been wonderful to feel like Dan had been being beautifully true and honest in a way Phil had never before seen him be with the world at large, or apparently even with Phil himself in recent times. There had been something in Dan’s face in the video, something free or new, like something beautiful being born. It had been absolutely mesmerizing and giddying.

He hadn’t texted Dan immediately after watching the video, because he’d been afraid that the amount of emotion he’d been feeling—especially the hurt about how Dan had been hiding all of this from him—would be apparent even in a short message. And he hadn’t wanted to appear desperate, like he had nothing better to do than sit around waiting for notifications that Dan had uploaded a video. So he’d decided to wait until the next morning, but now that he’d woken up and looked at his phone it was obvious that he’d waited too long … as he read all the hate messages the video had triggered. Still in bed, half awake, he immediately sent a hasty text:

Don’t listen to the haters. Your video was fantastic. YOU are fantastic!

He didn’t hear anything back for a couple hours, but he spent that time filming his own video response, which he uploaded late in the morning, wanting it up as quickly as possible to help emotionally shore Dan up at a time that must be hard on him. Phil knew how Dan tended to worry about what other people thought of him, how he feared being judged and found wanting in any way, and so he knew this large-scale fan reaction must be rough.

He expected to hear from Dan sometime that day, but … nothing. He sent another text, just in case Dan didn’t have notifications set for Phil’s own videos anymore (and didn’t that idea hurt like hell?):

Watch the video I uploaded this morning. It says what I think better than texts can.

Still no response. So he finally decided to phone before heading off to bed for the night. He hadn’t actually phoned Dan since … well … since they’d gone their separate ways after the end of TATINOF. It had been more than 7 years since he’d gone this long without hearing Dan’s voice. Hell, it had been years since he’d gone more than a couple days without hearing Dan’s voice! But his call went directly to voicemail. He left a message:

“Dan, it’s Phil. I know you haven’t gotten the best response to your video, but I thought it was amazing and that you’re very brave and … well … you should watch the video I uploaded this morning, because it explains better than I can on the phone. Just … call me, yeah? I’m worried about you. I know how you are when you get bad feedback, and this has been the worst, and you don’t deserve it for a second. So … call me when you get this.”

He’d been awkward and it made him feel like an idiot, but he’d still expected Dan to get back to him.

Still nothing.

Was Dan angry with him about the video he’d posted? Did he feel like Phil was interfering when Dan was trying to “do his own thing”? Phil had only been trying to help, but maybe it had seemed overbearing or something. He began to fret as days went by and he still didn’t hear from Dan. He sent another text:

I’m sorry if my video made you mad or something. I only wanted to help. I was only being honest. I’m sorry if you didn’t like it. Please just call me. Or text. You’re worrying the hell out of me.

Still nothing.

It had been more than a week when he finally heard something, and even then it hadn’t been from Dan. Louise had phoned him. They were in sporadic contact, so hearing from her wasn’t a surprise, but what she had to say was shocking:

“Phil, I’m at Dan’s place. He’s in a bad way. I think he’s been … I think he hasn’t been eating or … um … showering. Ew. Sorry. It’s just kind of gross. And he had glass in his feet, but I took that out…” This had all been said in one breath so that Phil didn’t have a chance to get a word in, but he interrupted her.

“Louise! Slow down! What happened? Did something happen to Dan? He’s … depressed or something? Because of the fans?”

Louise hesitated a moment. “I don’t know. I guess so. He called me, crying, and said he needed help. I came over—I didn’t even know where he was living until today–and I took care of his feet, because he’d stepped on some glass, and I made him some soup. He’s so skinny and pale, Phil!” And she started crying.

Phil pressed a hand over his eyes. This was so much worse than he’d been imagining. He knew how Dan could go into these dark moods, how he could fall into depression if something bad happened, and now Phil hadn’t been there to help. He could imagine now how it had gone, how Dan would have just sunk deeper and deeper into self-loathing with no one to step in to talk him out of it. Irrationally, Phil felt guilty that he hadn’t been there. Sure, Dan had been the one to decide to move out, but reason didn’t necessarily play a role in how Phil felt, and he felt like he should have been there.

Louise was still crying, so Phil gently shushed her and assured her that everything was going to be all right, that he was so glad she was there for Dan. “Where is he now?” he asked.

“After I bandaged his feet, he ate a little bit of soup and then said he wanted to go back to sleep. I told him he should at least watch your video, but he said he wasn’t ready to go online again yet. I made him promise to watch it as soon as he wakes up.” She paused a moment, but Phil didn’t know what to say and so didn’t jump in. Her voice was quieter, gentler, when she continued, “It was a beautiful video, Phil.”

He blushed. The way she said it, he wondered if more of his feelings had been apparent than he’d realized. He wasn’t even sure of what all his feelings were—things had been a little confusing since Dan had moved out—so he hated to think he’d given something away without even being aware.

But Louise was still talking, “You’re the kindest person I’ve ever known, Philip Lester. And the most wonderful friend. I feel lucky to be one of your friends, and I wish we’d seen more of each other lately.”

Phil felt guilty for a moment, as he’d been neglecting his other friends a bit, hiding away after Dan’s rejection, not wanting to hear everyone’s sympathy, but Louise sounded genuinely hurt.

“Let’s get together this week,” Phil said. “I’ve missed you.” And he realized that he meant it. He should really call PJ, too. And he hadn’t talked to Felix or Marzia since he’d stayed with them in December, which he realized was incredibly rude. Okay. Time to reconnect with some people. But first, make sure Dan was going to be okay. “But first, just take care of Dan.”

Louise laughed tiredly. “Oh, he won’t let me do much. You know him. But I’ll go out and buy some Maltesers…”

“No,” Phil interrupted. “You stay there with him. I’ll run to the shops and buy some things. Maltesers, his favorite biscuits, that sort of thing … pick up a pizza with his favorite toppings. I’ll bring them by if you … um … if you want to give me the address. Do you think he’d mind? I won’t come in…”

This time Louise was the one to interrupt, her voice soft. “I’m sure it would be fine, Phil. And it would be really kind of you. Yes, please. I’ll stay here in case he wakes up, and you bring a few things you think he’d like.”

Phil nodded, not even thinking about the fact that Louise wouldn’t be able to see him over the phone. It felt good to know he could help in some small way. “I’ll be there in half an hour. Maybe a little more, to get the pizza.”

Louise agreed, and they signed off. Phil was out the front door within 5 minutes, his hair still in a ridiculous sleep quiff he hadn’t even noticed.

*

You are the best friend any person ever had in the history of the universe.

The text came in just when Phil was sitting down to dinner on the new sofa in his new lounge. Neither of them was all that new anymore, as he’d been living there for nearly 3 months now, but he still thought of them that way. It wasn’t their sofa, or their lounge, and so it all still felt new and a little bit wrong.

Dan must have finally seen his video. Phil blushed, alone in his flat. The next text arrived only seconds later:

I was literally crying

Phil didn’t know what to say to that. Was that a good thing? Dan cried easily even at the best of times, but in his current emotional state, were tears a sign that he was feeling worse?

I think you should take those big risks and follow your heart. You deserve everything good in the world.

Phil relaxed, the unnoticed tension leaving his body. Dan wouldn’t have written that if he was still stuck in the depressive spiral in his own head. He was thinking about someone besides himself, something outside his own mind, and that was a good sign. Phil wondered, though, if Dan had any idea what kinds of risks Phil had been thinking about when he’d said that in his video, the confused feelings he’d been struggling with these past few months. Living without Dan had made him realize how much he relied on their closeness for his happiness.

Yes, he would need to call Louise and PJ and Felix and Marzia and start getting together with people. He’d been sulking alone too much, grieving for what he didn’t have and forgetting what he did have. Hell, maybe he could even go on a date or two. It had been years since he’d really even thought about it. He shied away from thinking about why.

Dan had called him his “friend” in the text. Maybe he was open to reestablishing more of that friendship as time went on, maybe moving beyond texting, but he’d given no indication that he might be open to anything more. Phil tried not to think about what “more” might entail and texted back:

I’m not as brave as you. But you make me want to try. Thank you.

Maybe not try that, what he’d just been thinking, but it looked like his new solo show on Radio 1 would be starting soon … and VidCon was only three months off … and he hadn’t been putting many videos up on his own channel lately … and he’d been neglecting his other friendships. He needed a kick in the pants to get him started again, and maybe this was it. If Dan could have the courage to put up that video, then Phil could have the courage to go on without Dan. Well, mostly without Dan. With Dan just texting once in a while. It would be enough. It would have to be.

Phil’s phone pinged to tell him another text had arrived.

ILY Phil Lester

Phil knew that wasn’t meant the way it sounded—the light-hearted Internet abbreviation made that obvious—which is what made it hurt so much. In that moment, he knew what he’d been trying so hard to ignore: he was in love with Dan Howell … and Dan Howell barely wanted anything to do with him anymore.

Chapter Text

"Hello, Internet!" Dan is sitting on the floor at the foot of his bed in his new flat. The duvet is the same, and the familiar fairy lights are strung along the headboard, but the artwork is hung in different places and the walls are a slightly different color than before.

The main difference, though, is that Dan's face looks thinner and paler than usual, and that he has noticeable circles beneath his eyes. He is wearing a baggy beige jumper with the sleeves pulled down to cover his hands, and he keeps fidgeting with his fingers at the edges of the sleeves.

"So ... you may be wondering why you haven't seen any videos on my channel for a few weeks." Dan gives the camera a knowing look, an obvious attempt to look ironic or cheeky, but really he just looks tired. "Well, the last one went over so well that I just thought I'd spend some extra time making sure this one was perfect. Wouldn't want anyone criticizing me, after all. We all know how much I love that!"

Cut to Dan looking off-screen for a moment, swallowing visibly, his throat working before he turns to look directly at his viewers again. "But we'll get to that in a moment. Right now I want to point out that this video is a sort of response to one posted by a good friend of mine, catrific, several months ago, called 'Why I Take Drugs.'"

The thumbnail for catrific's video appears on the screen and Dan gestures to it, saying, "You should watch it. It's worth a look, and I'll tell you why." The image disappears again, and Dan is once again center screen. He looks pensive.

"YouTube is a funny place. I mean, I've been telling you guys a lot of personal details about my life for more than 7 years, but there are certain things I've always felt I had a right to keep private, that there are things the Internet doesn't need to know."

"That's why I was so blown away by Cat's video last year, because she completely opened up about this incredibly personal topic, about her own struggles with anxiety, and allowed herself to be completely vulnerable around an issue that makes her most ... well ... vulnerable."

"Another friend of mine—you may have heard of him—AmazingPhil recently made a video in which he talked a lot about bravery. I'm not going to say much about that video, because it's pretty embarrassing and I think he's a little biased in his opinions, but I do like this topic of bravery. Because true bravery is what Cat showed when she talked about her anxiety and how it affects her life and her YouTube career. She was opening up to viewers about something so intensely personal ... I just couldn't believe it, and I admire her so much for it. I'd already known she was an amazing person, but this was more than I ever would have expected her to reveal to the Internet at large."

"There's so much stigma around mental illness in our culture, it's ridiculous, especially given how common the problem is. Statistics show that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year. One in four, and yet it's this great taboo, this thing everyone is afraid to talk about or admit publicly, this thing people feel they need to hide and be ashamed of."

"And this stigma is even more ludicrous because it treats mental illness as if it's a personal failing or a choice, like people are choosing to be depressed, as if they're simply lazy or bored. We don't treat people with cancer as if they can just 'snap out of it,' so why do so many of us treat depression or anxiety that way? 'Oh, there's nothing to be nervous about,' we tell people with anxiety, effectively dismissing the legitimacy of their struggle. 'Just take a walk outside and you'll feel better,' we tell people with depression, belittling the severity of their feelings."

"Well, I say, 'Fuck that!' We need to start approaching mental illness just as seriously and compassionately as we approach physical illness. No one should be made to feel afraid to admit suffering from anxiety or depression or body dysmorphia or any other mental health problem. If our culture were more accepting of these issues and help was more easily obtainable, then suicide rates would not be as high as they are. More than 6,000 people commit suicide in the UK each year, and that statistic is only looking at people over the age of 15! This is a national health crisis, and not only in the UK."

"Everywhere in the world, we need to start accepting that mental illness is real, that mental illness is not a choice, that mental illness hurts people, and that mental illness kills people. We need to do something about this. Every single one of us, every single one of you can do something about this, just by talking to your friends and letting them know that they can talk to you, or by being honest with people you trust about how you're feeling and not letting social stigma keep you silent or ashamed. You have nothing to be ashamed of!"

"One of the things that celebrities have started doing about this is the equivalent of 'coming out.' ... opening up about their mental health struggles ... and YouTubers have been doing it, too. Cat is the person closest to me who's done it, but Zoella, Shane Dawson, and Tyler Oakley are just three of the other YouTubers I know personally who have spoken publicly about their own mental health issues. And I really admire all of them for their candour and their courage in doing so."

Cut to Dan looking away again, letting the fingers of one hand emerge from the sweater sleeve in order to fiddle with his hair, repeatedly pushing his fringe to the side as if trying to fix something that was perfectly fine already, then cut to him once again looking into the eyes of his viewers. He looks nervous.

"I was never that brave. I made jokes about it. I joked about having 'existential crises' that rendered me incapable of functioning. I joked about the blackness of my soul. I joked about obsessive editing, needing everything to be perfect, hating all of my videos because they never seemed good enough, being afraid of people judging me. But I never said, 'I have a tendency toward depression,' or 'I get anxious' ... because I didn't have the courage to say those things. A lot of people feel that way, and there's no shame in being afraid to open up—our culture certainly doesn't encourage it—but it doesn't help you to stay silent. It didn't help me. But I was just ... afraid."

"But now," Dan shrugs and smiles a real smile for the first time since the video began, his dimples deep as he shakes his head slightly, "well, it can't get much worse than the response to my last video, right?" He looks down for a moment, fidgeting with the sleeve cuffs again, then back up to the camera. "How many more people are going to unsubscribe if I admit that I barely got out of bed for a week after getting a little bit of criticism?"

Flash to a scene of Dan in bed with his laptop in front of him, his bare shoulders just visible beneath the black-and-white duvet before he gasps melodramatically and makes a horrified face before abruptly tossing the laptop aside and pulling the covers over his head. Muffled, exaggerated sobbing can be heard from beneath the duvet.

Then cut back to Dan sitting at the foot of his bed in that bland, baggy jumper. "I'd fallen into a spiral of despair that wouldn't let me out of its clutches until finally I found that tiny bit of strength to call someone and tell them I needed help. And I do mean strength, because that's what you need in order to reach out and tell someone what's going on with you."

Dan looks intent now, his face serious and determined, staring directly into the eyes of his viewers through the camera lens.

"And that's why I'm telling you all this, because there may be some of you out there who are in that same spiral, who are in those same clutches, and maybe you feel alone ... but I'm here to tell you that you're not. I've been there, too! I'm not making a joke of it this time, not trying to laugh it off so people don't pity me or mock me or whatever it was I was so afraid of. Because some things are more important than worrying about people judging me, and you guys are more important to me than that. If me telling the truth about my own experience helps even one person out there to find the strength to make that phone call to ask somebody for help, then it's worth it."

"So, yeah, I'm Dan Howell, and I struggle with depression and anxiety sometimes, but I usually try to laugh it off. Maybe you do, too. Only recently have I realized that laughing it off is treating it like it isn't important, and that's not good for everyone else out there who suffers from the same problems, because it's like I'm telling you that your issues aren't important, either. Well, they are. Your mental health matters to me, and so I'm going to try to take my own issues more seriously out of respect for you."

Dan shrugs uncomfortably, but continues looking directly into the camera. "I'm not taking medication, at least not yet, because I think my problems might be manageable without it. I'm doing better now that I've talked to someone about how I'm feeling, and I've figured out that I do better if I make sure to have contact with friends and not let myself isolate too much. It was easier when I lived with Phil, but I'm glad I'm having to learn how to manage this on my own, because I think it will make me a stronger person, needing to actually face this and admit it and learn how to deal with it."

Dan looks down at his hands, fingers obsessively fidgeting with the sleeves again, then looks back into the camera. His expression softens and his voice is quieter as he says, "That doesn't mean that Phil's last video didn't help, though. Support from your friends helps. Don't be afraid to ask for it."

Cut to Dan sitting on the edge of the bed, smiling a bit more cheerfully, "Well, that's all I have for today. I hope it resonated with a few of you out there. If so, be sure to talk about your experiences in the comments. We're here to support each other, and this is a place where you can do that. You can also tweet me @danisnotonfire with the hashtag #mentalhealth, and we can try to start a discussion."

The thumbnail of Cat's "Why I Take Drugs" video appears in the upper left of the screen, and the thumbnail of Phil's “What I’ve Learned from Dan Howell” video appears in the upper right. The thumbnail of Dan's "Moving On" video appears in the lower middle, near his belly. Dan gestures to each in turn:

He gestures to the thumbnail of Cat's video. "Click here to watch catrific's incredibly brave video about her struggles with anxiety. It's a great video, and everyone should watch it, especially if you have experience with anxiety or know someone who you think does."

He gestures to the thumbnail of his own video in the bottom center of the screen. "Click here if you want to watch my last fantabulous video, which resulted in nearly a third of my followers unsubscribing." He attempts an ironic smile, but it looks more like a grimace.

Visible pink spots appear on his cheeks as he gestures to the upper right at Phil's thumbnail. "And click here if you want to watch AmazingPhil's latest video, which was an extremely embarrassing response to mine."

Then Dan gestures around his own face with silly voguing hand movements as he says, "And click on my face to subscribe to my channel if you're interested in seeing more videos like this, with me rambling incoherently about my deep thoughts."

And then, with a jaunty hand gesture away from his head, Dan bids the viewers goodbye, and the video ends with an explosion of fire and a booming sound effect.

Chapter Text

 

“Hello, Internet!” Dan gestures his traditional greeting, smiling more brightly than he has in his past few videos. His dimples are more in evidence, and there is a brightness to his face. His cheeks seem to have filled out a bit, and he has less of a hollow look to him. He is sitting on the edge of his bed with its familiar black-and-white duvet, fairy lights shining cheerily behind him. His old Tonberry plushie is visible in the background, leaning against the pillow.

“Today I’m here to talk to you about cordless hammer drills and chocolate golf balls.” He pauses for dramatic effect.

He tilts his head inquisitively. “’What do these things have in common?’ you may ask yourself. Well, the thing they have in common is that they are very specifically marketed to men, and I find that sort of gender-specific marketing highly offensive. ‘But you already talked about this issue in your last video about feminism,’ you may reply with your annoyingly accurate memory. Well, that video was more about historical oppression and Disney princesses and assumptions about feminine passivity, and this one is more about how societal expectations of men based purely on an arbitrary physiological trait, which is to say, ‘We have dicks, and companies like to make us aware of it at every opportunity and sell us objects and ideas based on that fact,’ all of which is, of course, utterly ridiculous.”

Dan pulls out a white box of Lindt chocolate golf balls and holds it up in front of his face, only his brown eyes showing, and rolls his eyes down to stare at it dramatically. “Exhibit One: Lindt chocolate golf balls. I keep seeing these in shops, and they irritate the hell out of me.” He pulls the box away from his face and holds it beside his head to look at it. “Why would a chocolate company feel a need to make a product related to sport? I mean, what does chocolate have to do with sport in the first place? And why choose a sport with so little representation by women? I mean, they didn’t choose volleyballs, or footballs, or fucking shuttlecocks, but golf balls. And who plays golf? Mainly old white men, that’s who. And Tiger Woods, but … you know … he also has a dick. Especially if the stories I’ve heard have any basis in reality.”

He opens the box and removes two of the chocolate golf balls, gingerly weighing one in each hand and gazing at them with open disgust. “Not to mention the obvious symbolism.” He looks at the viewers and grimaces. “Do I really want to eat some metaphorical testicles? Um … no thanks.” He puts the balls back into the box and then tosses the box over his shoulder, where it bounces off the bed and can be heard crashing to the floor behind him.

“Exhibit Two,” Dan intones, and pulls a cordless power drill box into frame. “You may remember this cordless power drill from my first video after I got my own flat. I waved it around and said it was a symbol that ‘I’m now a MAN!’” Dan turns in profile to stare at the box and grimaces again. “What a load of rubbish.” He then hefts the box a couple of times and says, “This thing is fucking heavy. I’m going to put it down.” And he sets the box on the bed beside him.

“In this day and age, plenty of women live on their own and learn how to fix things in their flats, just as men have to do when they first live alone. Putting screws into walls or fixing a faucet are not gender-specific activities or skills—we’re all capable of Googling how to do them—and the fact that EVERY single power drill I saw at the shop had a photo of a man on the box offended me tremendously. I mean, it might be even worse if they had specific ones with photos of women on the box, maybe a pink box, marketed specifically to women, like women need a different kind of power drill. What does gender have to do with home DIY? Nothing. But this kind of packaging only perpetuates the societal expectation that men will buy and use products like these, and that women won’t. And I, for one, have never used the stupid thing except as a prop in videos, because I’m just not into DIY.”

Dan removes the cordless power drill from its box and presses the trigger to rev it a few times, staring at it with wide eyes. Then he turns to look at the camera, the drill still visible, pointed upward at a safe distance from his head, and intones, “And let’s notice, AGAIN, the obvious symbolism.” Dan sets the drill on the bed and leans back slightly with both hands on the duvet behind him. He licks his lips in a mimicry of seduction and performs some vague hip thrusting movements, lifting his butt off the bed repeatedly as he moans, “Oh baby. Check out my … cordless power drill!” then rolls his eyes. He puts the drill back in the box, makes as if to throw it over his shoulder, then visibly rethinks the action. “Okay, no. I don’t want to break my lamp or something. We’ll just put this on the floor.” And he moves the box out of frame, placing it on the floor near his feet. “But in my mind, I’m tossing it. Just so you know.”

“I feel like this sort of marketing perpetuates a stereotype of men as golf-playing, power drill-wielding towers of machismo, and that’s not me, and that’s not most of the men I know. I mean, Tyler Oakley is just as much of a man as Evan Peters or John Cena or Kanye.” Dan stops abruptly and brings a single finger to his chin, clearly thinking deeply for a long moment.

“Okay, no.” Dan looks regretful, shaking his head slightly. “Nobody is as much of a man as Kanye.” His dreamy facial expression is clearly exaggerated for comedic effect. “But you know what I mean. And trans men are just as much men as anybody else. I mean, I met Jake Edwards and Alex Bertie, two other British YouTubers, at Summer in the City, and they’re just as much men as me or Taylor Lautner.” He holds up a hand. “Not that I’m comparing myself to Taylor Lautner. Though, you know,” his hand lowers to stroke his belly, “under this shirt, I totally have Native American werewolf abs.” He nods gravely.

“But none of this matters anyway, because gender is just an irrelevant, artificial construct probably created primarily to make sure that the ‘wrong’ people didn’t marry each other or have sex. But, hey, society’s working that one out now, or making progress on the issue, at least, so just … screw gender. It sucks as a concept and doesn’t help anything or anybody.”

“To be honest, I don’t even identify as a man … I don’t rely on some specific part of my physical anatomy to define who I am… I identify as a person. So I’d appreciate it if companies stopped trying to market things to me based on the contents of my pants. And I’d appreciate it if society stopped trying to define us all by physiological traits we have no control over without extensive, expensive surgery.”

“So I’m here to say to you … don’t let anybody else tell you how you’re supposed to be, regardless of what your body looks like. All that matters is that you’re happy with who are, that you feel comfortable with yourself, and that you surround yourself with people who support and accept you. Maybe you like being a man, maybe you like being a woman, maybe you identify somewhere in between or reject the entire concept. It’s all good. You be you, and be happy. That’s what’s truly important.”

Dan looks earnestly into the camera. “I know some of what I’ve said in this video is controversial, and some of you might disagree with me, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts, so write them in the comments or tweet me @danisnotonfire with the hashtag #genderthoughts, and let’s get another discussion going. I think that, regardless of your position, this is an important issue to talk about and think about, so let’s do that.”

A thumbnail appears in the upper right and Dan gestures to it. “In the meantime, click here if you want to check out my somewhat related previous video, ‘Why I’m A Feminist.’ If you liked this one, I think you’ll find it interesting.” He waves his hands in front of and around his face and continues, “And click on my face if you’d like to subscribe to my channel and see more videos like this one.” His hands stop moving and his eyes are warm when he adds, “And thank you to all of you danosaurs who have been subscribing or re-subscribing recently, because it helps encourage me to keep making videos about things that really matter to me, like this one.”

Dan’s smile broadens again. “So, anyway, that’s me, and I’m over and out. Have a good one, and be happy.” Dan gestures a simple salute of his hand from his forehead, the screen explodes into fire, a boom reverberates, and the video ends.

Chapter Text

Phil was more obsessed with his phone than he’d ever been at any other time in his life. He was always on the alert for notifications of videos Dan had uploaded, or notifications of Dan’s tweets, or texts from Louise about how Dan was doing, or even the occasional text from Dan himself, though those were rare.

He’d known that he loved living with Dan. He’d had other flatmates before, back in uni, and he knew the difference between just living with people and truly connecting with them, but he hadn’t realized how much Dan had become a part of his moment-by-moment existence until he’d spent months living without him.

So yes, now he was living off whatever crumbs of Dan’s life the other man chose to share with him, and it felt utterly pathetic. He was 30 years old, for heaven’s sake, and he was watching his phone every moment in hopes that something Dan-related would appear. He was in love, and desperately unhappily so. In love with someone who’d shown no interest in seeing him in months.

Dan looked better in his most recent video. Happier, healthier. And that made Phil glad, but also … it made him wonder if Dan missed him at all. But then … there had been the Tonberry plushie in the background of the last video, lying on the pillow of his bed. Phil remembered when he’d given Dan that plushie, so many years ago, and how the teenage boy had cherished it. Did its presence on Dan’s bed mean that he’d been remembering those good times, that he’d been thinking of Phil? He hoped so.

In his own videos, Phil had tried to be his usual cheerful self, but fans in the comments had made it clear that he wasn’t entirely succeeding. They said he seemed subdued, that he seemed sad. He hoped that was just “phans” projecting, assuming that he would be sad without Dan, and that it wasn’t actually a reflection on his demeanor, but he couldn’t help but suspect that his true feelings might show more than he would like. He always made sure that the fairy lights over his headboard weren’t in the camera shots, because he wouldn’t want anyone else to know how sentimental he’d been when he decided to hang them there … how pathetic and lonely. Or how comforting their feeble light was in the dark at night, reminding him of Dan’s bedroom in their old flat. Like he’d found a way to have a piece of Dan here with him.

He watched Dan’s videos avidly, but they made him self-conscious, made him remember that terrible argument in the lounge, made him remember things Dan had said about wanting to do something meaningful with his life, implying that the kind of videos he and Phil made together didn’t accomplish that goal … that Phil’s sort of videos weren’t meaningful or important or … enough. Not enough for Dan, anyway.

But Dan was doing what he’d said he wanted: he was making videos about important issues, and in his most recent video he’d even come out as not identifying as male, not buying into the binary definition of gender, which had surprised Phil … not to mention quite a few of the fans. The fan response had been mostly positive, though, which Phil was glad of. Dan was taking real chances, revealing so much about his private feelings, and Phil was glad the fans weren’t hurting him more because of it. Phil kept an eye on Dan’s subscriber numbers and was happy to see them climbing again. Perhaps he was attracting some different kinds of viewers now with his new type of content, but people were definitely watching.

They were watching Phil’s videos, too. Fewer of them, of course, since he’d had fewer subscribers than Dan for years now, but he still had his loyal viewers. But he’d lost some faith in the worth of his own content. Dan had considered it beneath him, and now Phil was doubting himself for the first time since his own teen years. His videos seemed like nothing but froth compared to what Dan was doing. Why was anyone watching him at all? He kept going through his notebook of ideas, kept making a new video every few weeks, but there was a sense of going through the motions, putting on a happy act to try to cheer other people up when inside all he felt was alone.

When there weren’t new Dan videos to watch or tweets to read, Phil ghosted around his still-new-feeling flat, sitting on the not-right sofa, watching melancholy anime by himself. He’d been watching a lot of “Fruits Basket” lately, remembering how he and Dan had watched it together and Dan had shown the not-blackness of his soul by falling in love with the show’s core message of acceptance and kindness. Phil kept hearing lines in the anime that reminded him of Dan. At one point, Yuki said, “They say that we should love ourselves first, before other people learn to love us, but it's not as easy as it seems. Sometimes, we need someone to accept us and love us first, then we would learn to see ourselves through that person's eyes and learn to love ourself." Phil hoped he had been able to do that for Dan, because Dan did seem to be doing a better job of loving himself than that insecure man-child Phil had first met at the Manchester train station.

He thought maybe Dan had done that for him, too.

They’d loved each other, hadn’t they? In some way. At least, he had loved Dan, and he thought that Dan had loved him too, at least as a friend. He wasn’t sure about that last part … but the Tonberry plushie gave him hope.

Louise’s birthday was coming up, and Phil knew both he and Dan would be invited to whatever gathering she decided to organize. It would be the first time he’d seen Dan since the end of TATINOF. It had been months. Phil was nervous. Would Dan ignore him? Would they be polite and formal? Or would they fall into their old comfortable banter without missing a step? He had no idea what to expect.

When the night actually arrived, Phil dressed with more care than usual, choosing his blue shirt with the hearts on it, because it was his favorite. They were going to a fairly nice restaurant, so he wore a black blazer over the shirt with a pair of black jeans and thought he looked reasonably smart. He messed with his hair for half an hour before he considered his fringe tolerable.

He decided to walk to the restaurant, since it was only about a mile from his flat and he wanted to work off some of his nervous energy. When he got there, everyone else had already arrived and were milling around the waiting area before being seated. They were all familiar faces, and Phil began hugging people hello immediately, moving from one person to the next, until suddenly he was face-to-face with Dan. He’d been hugging everyone, so it seemed awkward to avoid hugging Dan, but they’d never really hugged much. He leaned in for a light, casual hug, but was surprised when Dan wrapped his arms around him and squeezed more warmly than he had expected. Dan usually wasn’t so physically affectionate. When they pulled apart, Phil looked into Dan’s face, but Dan stepped away and looked down at the carpet, then over at Louise with a big smile for the birthday girl. He walked away to talk to her, leaving Phil standing there with empty arms and a sore heart.

When the table was ready and everyone seated themselves, Dan and Phil sat next to each other purely by habit, but it was only once the meal had started that Phil realized what a mistake that had been. They did not, as he had hoped, fall back naturally into the old banter. Their conversation was stilted, and Dan spent most of the time talking to Louise, who was seated on his other side. They seemed to have become quite close since she’d come to Dan’s rescue some weeks previous. Phil picked at his expensive food and looked around at the familiar faces, all smiling and laughing, and he forced a smile onto his face and tried to pretend to be enjoying himself.

But Dan knew him too well, and began shooting him concerned looks half-way through the meal. Phil broadened his smile and widened his eyes and began telling a funny story about a woman who had talked to him on the Tube last week. But Dan was frowning. He interrupted, leaning close so that no one else could hear as he asked quietly, “Phil? Are you okay?”

Phil beamed at him. “Of course. Where was I?” And he launched back into the story. But Dan looked troubled.

Over dessert, Dan commented that making videos was much more challenging when he couldn’t just run them past Phil for advice when he was done. Phil was stunned into silence for a moment, then replied, “You could always send them to me and I could look them over for you.” He had visions of collaborating with Dan again, discussing their videos, working together…

But Dan was shaking his head slightly. “I think it’s good for me to have to struggle through it on my own, at least for a while. It was too easy, always being able to get your help. I need to learn how to manage alone. But maybe when I’ve had enough of struggling, I’ll come crawling back, begging for your expert editing tips.” Everyone laughed, but Phil didn’t, feeling spurned. He smiled, though, pretending.

Pretending and pretending and pretending.

When everyone was milling near the front door of the restaurant, taking leave of each other and giving hugs goodbye, Phil made sure to hug Louise warmly, but then to avoid being near Dan. He didn’t think he could handle another of those close hugs without losing it entirely and bursting into tears in front of everyone. So he just made sure that plenty of people were between them, and then waved a jaunty goodbye to the group before putting his hands into his coat pockets and striding away on legs that were thankfully long enough to get him away before anyone—like Dan—even realized he was leaving.

When he got home, he changed into his pyjamas and a warm jumper and made microwave popcorn, despite the fancy meal he’d just eaten. He’d barely picked at his food, anyway, too nervous with Dan sat right beside him. He sat down on the sofa with his bowl of popcorn and turned on “Fruits Basket” again. He was in the mood for some kindness and compassion. And maybe Yuki would have more wisdom to offer.

Chapter Text

Dan has an ironic smile on his face as he sits in front of his computer to face the camera. He's wearing his white, long-sleeved, starched and ironed, office-appropriate button-up shirt. Besides the large computer monitor, his laptop computer is open on the desk in front of him.

"Hello all you problem-having people! I get loads of emails—thankfully not so many charming death threats these last few weeks—but I've been so busy with my various other videos lately that I realized I've been neglecting a very important service to our little community..." He throws his arms wide and announces cheerily, "It's Internet Support Group!"

The Internet Support Group theme plays, along with the usual cheesy intro visuals. Then cut back to Dan, sitting with a pint of Ribena beside his keyboard. He hasn't resorted to alcohol. Not yet, at least.

"So, today, welcome to a very special episode of Internet Support Group. Yes, it is time for me to once again give utterly unprofessional advice to a bunch of complete strangers, but this time with a bit of a twist."

“Today I want to address one particular issue that seems to affect enough of you that it seemed worth an episode all its own. The fact is, nearly half of the Internet Support Group questions I get are actually from subscribers who are struggling with their sexual identity."

Emails begin to scroll in white text against a black screen as Dan reads them aloud.

"Emily/16/Florida asks, 'I have a friend whose a girl, and I think I'm attracted to her, but I'm not sure. I think maybe I might be gay but I've had boyfriends before too. I'm confused! What should I do?"

"Alex/13/Hartfordshire asks, 'how do i know if i'm gay?'"

Sophie/22/France asks, "I'm pretty sure I'm a lesbian, but I've never had a girlfriend and haven't told any of my friends. They keep asking why I'm still single & trying to fix me up with guys, but I'm really not interested and don't know how to tell them."

Dan pauses to take a sip of Ribena for strength, then smiles gamely.

"Well, Emily, Alex, Sophie, and everyone else who has asked me similar questions, I should point out that a lot of far more knowledgeable people than myself have made videos on this topic—check out Tyler Oakley's channel, for example—but in this case, you guys are asking yours truly, so I'll try to answer as best I can."

"If you're wondering whether you might be gay, or bisexual, or" he makes a shocked face "even straight, there's no timetable for figuring it out. Take your time, see how you feel, and don't feel rushed to slap a label on yourself just because society's in a hurry to know which box to put you in."

"If you're still in school, you may hear a lot of homophobic slurs from ignorant classmates, like I did. I was bullied in school and college because I looked and acted different. Those charming lads called me 'gaylord' and 'fag,' and I determined early on that 'gay' was definitely a bad thing to be, something I didn’t want to be. So I tried my best to ignore any not-entirely-straight feelings I might have."

"When I started really questioning my own sexual preference, I struggled hard for a few years, especially in uni and right after, and it didn’t help that I ended up going through this big period of confusion right when my YouTube channel was suddenly becoming so popular, and so I was going through it in front of thousands of strangers, and people kept hounding me about whether Phil and I were together, and half the chat questions on my live shows were asking me if I was gay, and I just wasn’t ready to deal with the whole issue. I was really confused, and so I ended up lashing out with some fairly inappropriate internalized homophobia."

"Making this sort of decision, and—even more importantly, choosing to tell other people about it—is something you really have to do at your own pace and only when you’re ready. If you think that you or one of your friends might be anything other than heterosexual, don't push. Just keep an open mind and stay open to conversations on the topic. Don't make it weird for you or for anyone else. Relax. Let things develop naturally."

Dan's face looks troubled. “I’ve been seeing some comments the past couple years that describe some of my words and behavior as ‘queerbaiting,’" flash to clips of Dan stroking his Haru pillowcase, then stroking the photo of Evan Peters, then cut back to Dan sitting in front of the computer, "and that really upset me, because I love you guys. I may not always choose to share every little detail of my life with the entire Internet, but the things that I do share with you are always as completely and utterly honest as I know how to be. I wouldn’t pretend to be something I’m not in order to get views … I just wasn't ready to talk about this issue directly.”

"I haven’t talked about my own sexual orientation before because I choose very carefully what personal information I share with the Internet and with the world at large, because I value my privacy and need some space in my life that is just mine."

"But I realized that refusing to talk about this, while it was protecting my own privacy, was denying you guys the benefit of my own experience and the knowledge that you aren’t alone, that I’m with you, and that it does get easier."

Dan pauses to take a deep breath, apparently gathering his courage. He takes another sip of Ribena, then looks into the camera.

“I don’t like labels, because by their very nature they are oversimplifications of far more complex societal constructs and personal realities, but I guess if I had to choose a label for myself, now that I'm older and able to be more honest with myself, I’d say that I’m bisexual.” He smiles uncomfortably for a moment.

He gestures expansively and looks earnestly at the camera. "But it's okay to not know! Some people are sure from the time they're small children, but for most of us it's natural to go through a period of questioning, especially when faced with bullying at school or pressure from parents and friends. Or ... you know ... thousands of YouTube followers."

He smiles gently. "Try to go easy on yourself. The most important things to remember here are acceptance, compassion, kindness, and understanding, whether it's for your friends who may be questioning their sexual identity or whether it's for yourself. Be kind to yourself and to others, and you can't go wrong."

"Well, kindness seems like a good note to end on, so ..." The Internet Support Group image appears again with a short clip of its intro/outro music.

"Thumbs up and subscribe if you liked this video and want to see more Internet Support Group in the future!" A thumbnail appears in the upper right, showing Dan revving an erect power drill beside his head. Dan gestures to the thumbnail and says, "And click here if you'd like to watch my last video, in which I discuss phallic power tools and sport-related chocolate testicles.”

"I'll put the Internet Support Group email down in the description if you want to send me some more uncomfortable questions for next time." He looks sternly at his viewers. "Preferably questions about your own problems and not about my sexual kinks, though I do realize I've opened that door now and it can never truly be closed again." He shrugs and rolls his eyes. "Not that it ever stopped you before, either."

He smiles awkwardly and then points his fingers cheekily at the camera, "Well, until next time, goodbye from your favorite giantly tall, now openly bisexual noodle!" And the video ends.

Chapter Text

That took guts. I’m proud of you, bear.

Phil sent the text immediately after watching Dan’s most recent video. He couldn’t believe that Dan had actually told the world that he was bisexual. He’d never even said as much to Phil … not directly, at least. Phil didn’t even know if Dan had dated anyone during the time they’d been living together, though Dan had never mentioned anyone and Phil was fairly certain that he’d never brought anyone home.

Unless it was when Phil was away. He did go to Florida with his family every year, and he went home to visit occasionally. Had Dan brought women … or men … back to the flat when Phil wasn’t there to cramp his style? The thought turned Phil’s stomach, even though he knew he had no right to feel jealous. Dan hadn’t shown that kind of interest in him since the early days. And, even then, Dan had been the first one to put the brakes on. They were just friends. Or had been, anyway. What they were now was ill-defined.

Phil remembered the unexpected warmth of Dan’s hug at Louise’s birthday dinner and his heart ached.

The fact that Dan had now come out as officially bisexual made Phil feel uncomfortable. In Phil’s mind, it was like he’d also announced that the only reason he hadn’t been dating Phil was because … he wasn’t attracted to Phil like that. It wasn’t about only wanting women—it was about not wanting Phil.

The fans wouldn’t read it that way, of course. They would take it as proof that “Phan” was, or at least had been, real. Would Phil start getting more pitying tweets now, commiserating with him about getting “dumped” by Dan? It was all a little too close to the truth of how he felt, so he hoped the fans would just leave him out of it.

Fat chance.

Dan had been gutsy enough to upload the “Very Special Internet Support Group” video the day before his live show on YouNow, which meant he was going to get a lot of very invasive questions. Phil couldn’t resist watching. He never could. He knew Dan could see that he was online in the chat, and it made him feel a little awkward, but Dan had been watching Phil’s live shows lately, too, so in a way it also felt almost homey. Like they were spending an evening at home together … with thousands of fans.

Sure enough, the sex-related questions were scrolling through the chat like gunfire almost from the first moment Dan came onscreen. He dodged them for a while, talking about sexual orientation issues in general and society’s obligations to respect people’s preferences, trying to keep the discourse a little more high-brow, but finally he just laughed and bowed to the wish of the masses.

“Okay, okay,” Dan chuckled. Phil chuckled, too, because Dan’s laugh was infectious. Just seeing those deep dimples and the mirth on Dan’s face was enough to make Phil happy. “Here’s a question from in the box, obviously referring to my video from yesterday. It’s from howellsbaby, who asks, “Have you been with both guys and girls?” Phil raised his eyebrows, wondering at Dan’s willingness to even acknowledge such a personal question.

Dan looked away from the screen for a moment, his face a bit pensive, then turned back to face his viewers with a smaller, secretive smile on his lips. “Usually I wouldn’t answer a question like this, since I do believe I still have a right to some privacy, but just this once … yes. Yes, I do have experience with both men and women.” Dan’s smile was so sly now, it made Phil wonder … Dan knew he was watching … was he referring to them?

Had Dan been with other guys, or was this mysterious “experience with men” a reference to that one night, the first day they’d met, when Dan had stayed the night at Phil’s house? Was he referring to the kissing and grinding they’d done, both worked up after weeks of Skype chats and flirtatious tweets? It hadn’t been anything serious—they hadn’t taken any clothes off or anything—but teenaged Dan had come in his pants, so it must have been at least somewhat memorable for him.

Dan had seemed terribly embarrassed in the morning and had pretended that the whole thing hadn’t happened. He’d continued to flirt, but never indicated any interest in even kissing again after that, let alone anything more. Phil had been a bit confused, but also a bit relieved. Dan was a lot younger than himself, and a relationship between the two of them would be a bit unbalanced as a result. He was almost like a mentor to Dan. It was smarter to just be friends … though the flirting was still fun.

Even the flirting abated over the years, and Phil had begun to wonder if Dan even remembered that one heated night of open-mouthed kisses and grasping hands. The secret little smile Phil saw on Dan’s face in the live show made him wonder … was that about him … or about someone else? He wanted to think it was about him.

After the live show had ended, Phil found himself worked up by old memories and had a guilty wank, thinking about that night with Dan in his dark bedroom at home, when they’d only just met and emotions were running so high. Dan’s eyes had been large and innocent, his lips eager and wet, his fingertips digging into Phil’s shoulder blades, his hips moving against Phil’s in desperation. The memory was still vivid even after all these years. Phil’s orgasm was intense, but afterward he only felt empty. Dan was gone. It was time for him to move on.

The next day, he called the guy who’d slipped him his number at Starbucks the previous week. He didn’t know why he even still had the slip of paper in his coat pocket, but he did, and he decided it was time to try getting back out there.

*

The date was a disaster. Firstly, Phil was paranoid about going anywhere public, lest a fan see them, so he just invited the guy—Steven, his name was Steven—over to watch a movie. But Steven had taken the invitation to Phil’s home as an indication that Phil was expecting sex, and he made his first move before the opening credits of the film had even finished. His hand was on Phil’s thigh, and then his lips were on Phil’s neck, and it was just more than Phil was ready for. He’d just wanted to watch a movie … have some human companionship … hang out with someone he found attractive, and who found him attractive too … maybe some kissing when the movie was over. Like an average evening with Dan … but with some bonus features.

Phil pulled away from Steven’s groping with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. I’m just not … Can we just watch the movie?” Steven frowned, but took his hand off Phil’s leg and sat back in his own spot on the couch, close enough that their thighs still touched. He looked confused.

“But when you invited me over …”

Phil rushed to explain, “I’m sort of … some people know who I am, and they might post pictures on the Internet, so I thought this would be safer, just staying in and watching a movie. And we could talk, and I could make popcorn, and…” God, he was really describing an evening with Dan. What was he doing with this guy when he was obviously hung up on someone else?

Steven nodded slowly. “So you don’t want …”

Phil blushed. “I’d really like to watch the movie with you, if you want. I do like you and was looking forward to hanging out.”

“So … like Netflix and chill … except literally?”

Phil laughed uncomfortably. He hadn’t even known that the phrase meant something else until Dan had explained it to him. Yet another thing that reminded him of Dan. This was not going well. “Yeah. I mean, do you want to watch the movie with me?”

Steven had put his hands awkwardly into his lap and shrugged. “Okay. Why not?”

So they’d sat beside each other and watched the film in a weird silence, not commenting on the action the way he and Dan would have done, and their legs were touching, but Steven didn’t slouch down to rest his head on Phil’s shoulder like Dan usually did. Dan wasn’t very comfortable with hugs, but he was a very physically affectionate person … just … only with a select few people and only in subtle ways. He would tickle Phil, or poke him, or mock-punch him, or put a hand on his shoulder, or lean against him while they watched tv. Nothing overt, nothing they had to talk about or acknowledge in the light of day. Just … little intimacies that Phil missed.

And he was sitting beside another guy right now, a hot guy whose hand had been moving toward his dick a few moments ago, and he was thinking about Dan. How fucked up was this?

They finished watching the movie, though Phil wasn’t paying much attention to it, and Steven left without even seeming open to Phil making any attempt at a kiss goodnight. He doubted he’d be seeing Steven again.

Well. Damn.

*

He kept hearing things about Dan through their grapevine of mutual friends and through random tweets by people he didn’t even know. Apparently Dan had been doing some work with The Trevor Project’s UK people … apparently he was being considered for a small role in Ken Loach’s new indie film, which was exciting, since Dan had always liked acting … and Phil kept wondering if he should be doing more with his own life and career. He was 30 years old now, and—aside from the fairly silly solo radio show he’d developed—he was mostly just making silly videos on the Internet. And he didn’t even feel all that silly these days. But he didn’t want to let his subscribers down.

So every time he made a video, he put on a big smile and told a goofy story and made himself look like a dork to make other people’s lives a little happier, but he wasn’t feeling very happy himself. He did a lot of collabs, because it was easier to be cheerful and funny with another person there. So he’d collaborated with Louise, PJ, Felix, Zoe, Caspar, and even Adam, who had moved to London some time ago but who he hadn’t seen in years except at conventions.

And he found himself leaning into the hugs these old friends gave him when they met and when they parted, missing the casual physical intimacy that had been part of living with Dan. He missed just … touching someone.

So he decided to call Steven again, and apologized for the weirdness of their first date, and suggested that they go out for coffee. They laughed about how they’d first met at Starbucks and that coffee would be a fitting date, and Phil felt like his intentions were clearer this time, and he found himself looking forward to it. Steven seemed willing to give him another chance.

The date went better than the first had, as they both had similar expectations and were more relaxed. They chatted for more than an hour. No PDAs, as Phil had warned Steven about possible fan sightings, but just a nice night out with an attractive man who smiled at him and listened attentively to even the most inane things Phil had to say.

Steven walked him back to his flat, but they didn’t hold hands or anything else obvious or overt. When they were inside the building and at Phil’s door, they kissed goodnight, and it was perfectly fine. No explosive fireworks, but nice. Maybe the start of something. Phil felt a glimmer of hope.

As Steven’s footsteps retreated down the stairwell, Phil felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He’d put it on silent so it wouldn’t rudely interrupt his date. He let himself into the flat and took out his phone, only to find a notification that led to a photo of him on Twitter … looking very cozy with Steven. Someone had seen them, and in the photo they were smiling at each other in a way that clearly implied they were on a date, and the fans were already speculating up a storm. Phil sighed and locked the door behind him, then put his phone on the side table where he could ignore it for a while, his good mood evaporating.

He couldn’t have Dan, not even as just a flatmate anymore … but anyone not involved in the YouTube world would find this sort of thing pretty off-putting. People were going to be trying to identify Steven, then stalking him online if they were able to figure out who he was. Comparing him to Dan. Speculating. It was going to be ridiculous. He should phone Steven and warn him, but it all just seemed so overwhelming and annoying.

He missed those evenings just slouching on the sofa with Dan’s head on his shoulder, letting the fans spin their tales without really worrying about it. Life had been so much simpler then. He wished he could get back to that now, but he knew that he couldn’t.

He wondered what Dan would think when he saw the photo. Maybe nothing. Maybe Dan was quietly dating someone now. Maybe that’s what the secretive smile had been about during the live show. Phil’s stomach clenched at the thought, but he shook his head at himself. He wanted Dan to be happy, of course he did.

Just … wasn’t there some way he could be happy, too?

Chapter Text

Dan couldn’t have avoided seeing the picture on social media even if he wanted to … and to be honest he didn’t even really want to, because he felt a sort of morbid curiosity.

So … Phil was dating someone. Now that Dan was out of the way, Phil could bring someone home whenever he wanted and not have to worry about Dan hearing them.

Was Phil loud when he came? Dan couldn’t stop wondering.

The one night that they’d messed around, Phil hadn’t had an orgasm, even though Dan had come humiliatingly quickly once they got to rubbing against each other. So Dan had never heard Phil come. Not even through the walls of their bedrooms, or when he was in the shower, or any of the other times that he now found himself fantasizing about. There were so many times when Phil must have had orgasms while Dan was in the same flat, only a room or two away, but he’d never known, never heard.

Maybe he would have gotten a chance, back in 2009, but he’d been so mortified at his own hasty orgasm and Phil’s comparative calmness in the face of their apparently not-very-exciting fumblings that he’d decided in his embarrassment that pretending that none of it had ever happened had been the least humiliating course of action. But maybe if he’d pushed, if he’d given it another try the next day … maybe he wouldn’t have gone off like a rocket all on his own again, and maybe he’d have gotten Phil off too. Maybe he would have gotten to see what face Phil made when he came, hear what noises he made. If only he hadn’t been such a coward.

But now somebody else was apparently hearing what Dan never had.

Well … good for Phil! Right?

Dan knew he wasn’t the best relationship material, anyway, so Phil never would have been happy with him in that way. Dan was just too sarcastic, too cynical to be able to love someone like Phil the way he deserved to be loved: fully and unreservedly. Dan was too selfish and proud, too self-conscious, too quick to pretend indifference when he was embarrassed, just like he had back in 2009. He hadn’t changed much, not in the important ways. Phil definitely deserved better.

But it hurt every time he saw that photo popping up on his Twitter, since every damn person just kept tagging him when they retweeted it, as if he hadn’t seen it already, as if he wanted to keep seeing it over and over again. Sure, he was curious, but … he also sort of didn’t want to know, at the same time.

But, in the photo, Phil was smiling … and he looked so happy.

How could Dan begrudge him that? So … if Dan’s leaving had opened the door for Phil finding love, then Dan was going to be happy for him … even if all the fake smiling killed him in the process.

*

When he started gearing up for VidCon, signing up to be on various panels and such, he got a text from Cat asking if he’d like to come to L.A. a bit early to stay with her for his birthday, since it was less than two weeks before the con started. What with the tour and all, he and Phil hadn’t gotten to spend much time with Cat for the past couple years, and he missed her terribly, so he jumped at the chance.

He’d been trying, just generally, to connect better with friends, Louise and Chris and PJ especially. He’d realized that he really needed people in his life, that he couldn’t just hide in the house every day and actually be emotionally healthy … not when it was just him, not when he didn’t have Phil always there to help keep him from going off the existential rails.

He’d gradually realized, through a lot of effort and a lot of long talks with Louise, that there was no shame in needing other people in his life, though he still felt that he’d been putting an unfair amount of responsibility on Phil’s shoulders in that regard. And his relationships with his friends were different now, now that he was having to interact with everyone without Phil as a buffer to make everything easier for him. The friendships now were deeper and he felt like he was really letting people get to know him, not always hiding behind Phil because Phil was so good at being friends with people and Dan was so awkward.

Dan had never spent time alone with Cat—it had always been the three of them—but she said she was looking forward to getting to talk to him about some of the things he’d been saying in his videos and that she’d always wished they could be better friends. Tyler had been texting him to much the same effect. He’d never gotten to know Tyler as well as he knew Cat, but now that they were both working with The Trevor Project and Dan was out, Tyler was clearly trying to be as supportive as possible. And Dan was trying not to shy away from overtures of friendship like he had so often in the past.

So, in the end, he made arrangements to stay with Cat for a week, including Disneyland for his birthday, then stay with Tyler for a few days, and then back with Cat during the actual convention.

He hoped nobody would get the wrong impression about him staying with Cat—or with Tyler, for that matter, now that everyone knew he was bi—but he wasn’t going to let it stop him from hanging out with friends when he needed them most. He wasn’t going to hide out at a hotel all by himself when there were cool people inviting him to spend time with them.

He was getting better at this whole “having friends” thing.

*

While slobbing around with Cat in their pyjamas for a week had been great—and their Disneyland trip on his birthday had been definitely worth it, even if Cat had made him self-conscious by vlogging the whole thing to put up on her side channel—it was really the week he stayed with Tyler that had the most impact on Dan.

Because apparently Tyler had been saving up a few bones he had to pick with Dan, and he wanted to sit the boy down and have a serious talk or two.

The first night Dan stayed with him, Tyler invited a few other friends over, and they all played Cards Against Humanity, which they had both enjoyed when they played it for a collab video the previous year. The dark humor of the game really appealed to Dan’s sense of the absurd and cynical, but in a way that ended up in uproarious laughter pretty much every turn. Dan found himself having a good time with Tyler’s friends, even though he’d never met most of them before. They just seemed like nice people … nice people playing a thoroughly non-nice game, which was a fun juxtaposition. Plus, there was alcohol, which always provided helpful social lubrication.

In the morning, Dan was feeling a little hungover, but not too badly, and Tyler was a thoughtful host, moving around quietly until Dan was ready to be awake, at which point he offered a couple of Tylenol, a glass of water, and a sympathetic smile. Without talking much, he pointed Dan toward the cereal and milk, then went to collapse on his sofa with his phone, thumbs moving quickly as he no doubt tweeted about whatever issue was currently obsessing him.

Dan stumbled around, stuffing his face with Cheerios and squinting in the bright L.A. sunlight, until he felt awake enough to be social and went to join Tyler in the lounge. Or, as Tyler called it, the “living room.”

Dan was still wearing his sleepwear of track pants and t-shirt, even though it was now close to noon. Tyler was dressed, but didn’t seem in a rush to drag Dan out anywhere, so Dan pulled out his laptop and they just chilled for a while … until Tyler set aside his phone with a determined look on his face.

“Still hungover?” he asked, tilting his head slightly.

“Not too bad. Why?” Dan replied, looking up.

“Because, girlfriend, we’ve got some things to talk about.” He was eyeing Dan disapprovingly, which Dan found confusing. What the hell had he done to piss Tyler off? They hadn’t even seen each other in nearly a year!

“Is this about me coming out?” Dan closed his laptop and set it aside.

Tyler shook his head. “Not at all. I mean, we’re going to dish about that a lot more later, but I’ve been waiting months to give you hell about that first video.”

Dan frowned in confusion. “‘Hello Internet’?”

Tyler laughed out loud, falling back on the sofa with the force of it. “Oh, I could give you hell about that, too, if you like”–Dan scowled—“but I was talking about the one when you said you were ‘taking your channel in a more serious direction’ … or something like that.”

This conversation was making no sense whatsoever. “You disagree with that decision? But you do all kinds of great things with your YouTube success. You don’t just sit around making baking videos and call it a career.”

Tyler held up a hand and looked legitimately angry for the first time since Dan had known him. “Stop right there, mister. Because you are talking trash about somebody I like a whole lot, and I’m not gonna stand for it.”

Dan frowned. “What? Me from last year?”

“No. Phil Lester.”

Dan’s eyes widened. “I wasn’t saying anything bad about Phil!”

“Every time you’ve denigrated those ‘fluffy’ videos you used to make, you’ve been putting Phil down. He likes making those kinds of videos. That’s his whole chosen brand. And all you’ve done is trash it for months. He deserves way better than that from you, especially after everything he did to help you get where you are.”

Tears had sprung to Dan’s eyes. “I never meant to put Phil down, or his videos. I just wanted to do something different.”

“Yeah, well, for somebody who prides himself on being so articulate, you did a crappy job of saying that in a way that showed respect for a person who was your best friend for years. Is he even still your best friend?”

Dan shrugged uncomfortably. “We don’t really talk anymore. For right now, anyway. Things were hard when I moved out, and I wanted to try to make it on my own…”

Tyler threw his hands in the air in frustration. “I live on my own, but I’d be lost without my friends! Korey’s been my best friend since college, and I don’t know what I’d do without him in my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m not an independent person! It just means I value what other people can bring to the table, both emotionally and career-wise. You don’t have to do everything on your own in order to be a grown-up, you know.”

“Yeah,” Dan agreed slowly, “I’ve been figuring that out some with Louise … you know, sprinkleofglitter. We’ve gotten pretty close the last couple months, and it’s nice to have a good friend without feeling like my life revolves around her.”

“You felt like your life revolved around Phil?”

Dan nodded reluctantly. “We never did anything separately. We were always together. Not just videos, but everything. I didn’t know who I even was without him being there next to me in my life.”

Tyler tilted his head again. “Figure it out yet?”

Dan smiled. “I’m definitely getting there.”

“Figure out yet that you don’t have to be away from Phil in order to do that?”

“What the hell does that mean? Are you saying you think I did the wrong thing, moving out?”

Tyler shrugged dramatically, “That was your decision. I’m not going to say whether it was right or wrong. But now that you’ve figured out you can be independent and have friends at the same time … why are you still barely talking to him?”

Dan tugged at a loose string on his track bottoms, not looking up. “I don’t know.”

“Well, now he’s off dating hot guys, and pictures are all over Twitter, and you’re on your own, and don’t you think it’s time to start figuring it out?”

Dan looked up abruptly, and he could feel himself blushing. “Phil and I weren’t like that. Aren’t like that. We’re just friends.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “Okay. That’s a whole ‘nother issue, and we will talk about it, but I want to get back to my point about your video.”

“Which is?”

“Did you have fun last night?”

This seemed like a non-sequitur. “Um … yes?” Dan’s reply came out sounding like a question, because he had no idea where Tyler was going with this.

“And did you have fun doing our collab video when we played Cards Against Humanity last year?”

“Yeeessss,” Dan dragged out, getting annoyed with Tyler’s beating around the bush now.

“And do you think The Trevor Project should stop working with me because I played Cards Against Humanity and watched questionable porn with you on YouTube last year?”

“Noooo,” Dan dragged out, starting to get where this was probably going.

“Riiiiiiight!” Tyler beamed at him. “Because I don’t have to be a stick-in-the-mud in order to get serious shit done. I can make a video about whisks”—they both cringed—“and I can interview Obama or Hillary, and I can get political, and I can work for The Trevor Project, and I can make a podcast about my love for Lady Gaga, and they can all be parts of who I am. I don’t have to be only one thing. It isn’t healthy to be only one thing. So … why the fuck are you trying to be only one thing, Dan?” Tyler’s voice had risen, and Dan leaned away slightly. “You think in order to make serious content you can’t do anything silly or funny? Well, I saw you playing that game last night, and you were having fun. You need to find a way to have fun in your life, and not just make it all about everything having to be “meaningful.” Fun is meaningful, too. What Phil does is meaningful, too. You don’t have to leave that all behind, because when you do, you’re leaving part of yourself behind at the same time.”

Dan was looking down at his hands in his lap. What Tyler was saying made a lot of sense. And he felt like absolute shit that maybe Phil thought he’d been looking down on him for making lighter content. He’d never even stopped to consider how Phil might feel about any of this, and that made him the shittiest friend ever.

But at least he knew he’d be seeing Phil at VidCon, and if Tyler had convinced him of anything, it was that he and Phil needed to have a serious talk.

“Think about it,” Tyler said more quietly, seeing that Dan had gotten the point. “How much have you laughed since you stopped living with Phil?”

Dan looked up with tears still standing in his eyes and smiled a little. It was an excellent question.

 

Chapter Text

He was walking across the crowded floor at VidCon with Cat, sticking close to her side because even if he’d gotten better about connecting with friends he still felt incredibly awkward with people in general, especially crowds. The “Content Provider Area” wasn’t as bad as the rooms open to the general public, but it was still always filled with dozens of people, any number of whom might approach them at any moment to strike up a conversation. Dan just wanted to get to the food and find a corner to casually hide in.

He and Cat had had some really good chats while he’d been staying with her. Their friendship was comfortable and familiar after the years of various outings together whenever he and Phil visited L.A. or conventions. Even without Phil present, Cat’s sweet, welcoming presence had been a perfect chill pill to prepare him for the chaos of VidCon, and he now felt like he knew her better, and that she knew him better, too.

They’d talked about some serious stuff—not only Dan’s mental health issues but also his coming out and his currently-strained relationship with Phil—but confrontation wasn’t Cat’s style, so she hadn’t come at him like Tyler had. Not that Tyler’s approach had been bad, exactly—Dan realized he’d needed to hear a lot of the things Tyler had said. It had all really gotten him thinking.

Suddenly, Cat beside him was engulfed in a cyclone of a hug by a tall man with black hair, and Dan immediately knew who it must be. “It’s been way too long,” Phil gushed as he enfolded the smaller woman in his arms and squeezed her enthusiastically. When they pulled apart, Phil looked at Dan with a smile and opened his arms again, and Dan walked into the hug with relief. This didn’t feel awkward at all, and he let his arms wrap around Phil and return the hug warmly, like he had at Louise’s birthday party. It felt so good to be close to Phil again, to smell his familiar skin and feel his wiry arms around him.

They pulled apart, and Dan and Phil looked into each other’s faces and smiled for a moment, and it felt so familiar and perfect … he’d forgotten how clear and expressive Phil’s eyes were, and he gazed into them until the moment stretched on a bit too long and Dan looked away, feeling awkward. Phil was dating someone now … and he and Dan were barely in touch these days … they weren’t supposed to be looking at each other like that.

Phil cleared his throat and asked Cat where they were headed. He asked if he could join them, and Cat glanced at Dan quickly before agreeing, and the three of them headed toward the table of food set up against one of the walls.

“I noticed you’re on a lot of panels this year,” Phil said conversationally to Dan, and Dan nodded.

“There was just a lot of stuff that interested me. I noticed you aren’t on many, though.”

Phil looked away and mumbled, “I just didn’t really feel like it.”

Dan noticed that Phil seemed uncomfortable and wasn’t making eye contact like he usually would. He wanted to ask about it, but Cat jumped in and began talking about the various panels they were all participating in, and the opportunity was lost.

*

Dan was amazed at how Phil didn’t seem to hold a grudge at all, but then Phil had never been one to hold grudges. Dan had said terrible things to him—not only about his YouTube content but also about their friendship—and there Phil was, sitting backstage at each of Dan’s panels, giving him a big smile and two thumbs-up any time their eyes met, just like he would have in the old days. Just as he’d done since the very beginning, always encouraging Dan and helping him when he felt insecure. He’d thrown that back in Phil’s face in that argument they’d had, saying that he didn’t want that closeness, that he felt stifled, and Dan wished he could take it all back. What was wrong with supporting your friends, especially if you knew they might be hesitant or nervous? Nothing. Why had he ever thought otherwise?

He and Phil both participated in the “YouTube and Social Responsibility” panel, talking about the Stand Up to Cancer event, the release of their TATINOF single to help raise money, the Nicer Internet project, and various charity projects they’d been involved in over the years. They sat next to each other again, once again out of habit, but this time it felt natural and right to be sitting so close. Phil didn’t talk a lot, but when he did he always had something significant to contribute to the conversation. Dan remembered how much he’d always admired Phil’s quiet thoughtfulness at events like these.

That panel was the last of the day, and Dan was feeling a need to get away from the crowds. “Want to grab some dinner?” he asked Phil, hoping that he didn’t sound too desperate. Phil looked him in the eye, knowing him too well, and said, “My hotel isn’t far away. We could go order room service and not have to deal with maybe running into fans in a restaurant.”

Dan sighed happily, “That sounds perfect.”

“Maybe we could watch Inception? I was planning to watch it tonight anyway.” Phil was being too nice. Dan knew he didn’t deserve this kindness after everything he’d said and done, but he soaked it up like a needy, greedy sponge anyway. They’d seen Inception together when it first came out at the cinema years before, and watching it together again would bring back good memories.

“That sounds even perfecter,” Dan replied with a grin.

*

There was a small table with two chairs in Phil’s hotel room, but the only place to sit where they could see the tv was on the bed, so they sat there while they ate and watched Inception.

“Just don’t get rice on my bed,” Phil grumbled, and it was so much like old times that Dan thought briefly that he might embarrass himself by tearing up, but he looked away and poked at his cashew chicken and the moment passed.

When the movie was finished, they segued easily into discussing the problematic plot holes and excellent special effects, things they’d already talked about the first time they saw the movie but hadn’t tired of exploring.

That led to conversation about other movies they’d seen together, then movies they’d seen since they’d been apart, then other random topics, and it all just flowed naturally, like their conversations always had, even back before they’d met and were only talking on Skype. Dan kept wanting to bring up the heavy issues, like the fact that he hadn’t meant to run down Phil’s YouTube content, but the moment just never seemed right, and he didn’t want to make things awkward when they were finally really talking like friends again.

Eventually, they realized that it had gone 2 a.m., and Dan hesitated about returning to Cat’s house at that hour and waking her up before the final day of the convention tomorrow. Phil shrugged. “Just stay here.”

Dan looked at the bed. The one bed. It was large, but still … one bed.

Phil rolled his eyes, looking tired. He probably should have taken out his contact lenses hours ago, but they’d been caught up in their conversation and he’d probably forgotten. “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.”

Dan chuckled and sent Phil a sly look and said without thinking, “What if I want you to?” They’d fallen into such a comfortable conversational rhythm that the joking flirtation came out automatically, but the joke fell flat. They both pretended he hadn’t said it.

Phil looked away and coughed uncomfortably. Silence fell for a long moment. “Um…” Dan said, hesitating, “are you sure your boyfriend wouldn’t mind?”

Phil looked up at him in surprise, then sighed. “Right. That stupid photo. He’s not my boyfriend. We just went on a couple dates. And I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other again.”

Dan felt relieved somehow, though he chastised himself for the emotion. Phil’s dating life was none of his business … even if they were about to spend the night in the same bed.

“I’m going to change into my pyjamas. Want to borrow a t-shirt so you won’t have to sleep in that?” Phil gestured to the white button-up moth shirt Dan had worn to the convention today. Dan nodded gratefully.

Phil returned from the bathroom in his Cookie Monster pyjama bottoms and a white t-shirt, handing a blue t-shirt to Dan. It was a bit snug, but was still better than the moth shirt as a makeshift pyjama top. Dan hesitated at the side of the bed, still wearing his jeans and thinking how uncomfortable they were going to be for sleeping. Phil was already under the covers, wearing his glasses and looking very sleepy already. “For heaven’s sake, Dan. I won’t grope you in your sleep. Just wear your boxers.” Dan nodded jerkily and removed his jeans without looking at Phil, then climbed between the sheets. The weather was warm in L.A.—they probably wouldn’t need the duvet, but it provided a sort of reassuring covering for the moment.

“Good night,” Dan said awkwardly, and Phil merely mumbled a reply, fumbling his glasses onto the bedside table and turning out the light. A moment later, Dan turned out the light on his own bedside table and lay his head on the pillow, but it took him a long time to fall asleep, as he couldn’t stop thinking about the man quietly snoring beside him.

In the morning, Phil seemed a bit confused to find Dan in his bed, but quickly remembered their late-night crash. He put his glasses on and sat up—still under the white hotel sheets, though they’d kicked the duvet onto the floor during the warm night—and yawned hugely, stretching his long arms. “I’d offer to let you shower here, but you don’t have any clean clothes to change into. I don’t think mine would fit you.”

Dan sat up, too, very aware that he was wearing only boxers beneath the sheet, and joked, “I’m not sure if it would be worse caught sneaking out of your hotel room in yesterday’s clothes or in your clothes.”

Phil frowned a little and got out of the bed. “Yeah. We wouldn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea.” He wasn’t meeting Dan’s eyes now. “You should probably go. If anybody asks, just say you crashed at a party that ran late.”

Did Phil think Dan was ashamed of him? He’d probably said the wrong thing again. But he’d only gotten a few hours of sleep and wasn’t thinking very clearly … and he had a full final day of VidCon ahead of him, so he’d better rush back to Cat’s to shower and change.

“Thanks for last night,” he told Phil, trying to catch his gaze. “It was really fun.”

Phil smiled at him, and Dan fell into those eyes again. “Yeah, it was. I’ve missed you a lot.” Phil’s cheeks looked a bit pink at the admission, so Dan hurried to reassure him.

“I’ve missed you, too.”

*

“Summer in the City” was less than 6 weeks later in London, and he and Phil had been texting regularly in the intervening time. The ice had been broken at VidCon, and when they saw each other at SitC, little of the awkwardness remained. They hung out with their friends and met a lot of subscribers and just chatted about inconsequential stuff whenever they got the chance. It was like the old days: whenever they were in the same room, they seemed to be talking to each other.

When the con was over, Dan asked if Phil would like to come over sometime to play Mario Kart or something, and Phil said, “Sure,” with a brilliant smile that made Dan really glad he’d asked.

He tried not to stare at Phil with the slack-jawed admiration he’d felt when he was 18, but he was feeling some of the same feelings, which made it difficult. In all those months of learning how to be on his own, he’d forgotten how good it felt to be with Phil, how much Phil made him laugh, how good Phil made him feel about himself, and how beautiful Phil’s face was, with those clear blue eyes and those high cheekbones and that pale, smooth skin. He wanted to touch Phil, to put a hand to his cheek or run his fingers through that inky hair, but he just smiled and said, “I’ll text you,” and they caught their separate cabs like they had that day after the end of TATINOF, but now it felt completely different, loaded with promise instead of regret.

Chapter Text

The Tube car was crowded, but Dan literally tuned the people out with the music coming from his earbuds. When a pregnant woman stepped in through the open doors, Dan was surprised to see that none of his fellow rude Londoners stood to offer her a seat. He immediately leapt to his feet to offer her his own spot, but suddenly the world was spinning and he felt unsteady. He tried to grab onto the metal railing, but felt himself falling before he could manage to stop his descent.

*

“Has anything like this ever happened before?” The voice was unfamiliar and seemed to be coming from a long distance away. Dan could feel that he was scantily clad beneath scratchy sheets and tried to remember how he’d gotten here. He couldn’t seem to open his eyes, because he was fighting the urge to slip back to sleep.

“Well,” that voice was much more familiar, “he did destroy the coffee table in our lounge once when he stood up too quickly.”

“Yes, well, that appears to be what happened this time, as well. Witnesses reported that he stood up abruptly and then fell unconscious almost immediately afterward, striking his head on the way down. He has a mild concussion, but the CAT scans show nothing serious. We assume the loss of consciousness was simply due to his low blood pressure. He should be able to go home today if someone will be present to keep an eye on him. You were listed as his emergency contact … would you be able to care for him for the next couple days?”

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll stay with him.”

And then Dan was asleep again.

*

The taxi ride home was a bit swirly and surreal, because Dan’s head wasn’t feeling quite right yet, but he was glad to leave the hospital. Phil had asked hesitantly if it was okay to take Dan to Phil’s place instead of his own, because he’d feel more comfortable taking care of him there, and Dan had agreed, not really caring where he went as long as he got to lie down again and the world stopped spinning.

Phil helped him up the stairs to his flat and immediately settled him into his own bed, under the familiar blue and green sheets and duvet. Dan nuzzled his face into the pillow and smelled the scent of Phil’s shampoo and felt happier than a man with a concussion should be able to feel. He closed his eyes again.

“I’ll need to wake you up occasionally to make sure you’re okay and that the concussion doesn’t lead to something worse, but for now you can sleep here,” Phil said gently. Dan made an inarticulate humming sound of agreement and cuddled comfortably under the blankets. He heard quiet footsteps receding as he fell back asleep.

*

Some time later, he was wakened by a soft touch to his shoulder. “Dan? I brought you your pain tablets and a glass of water. Is your head hurting?”

Dan groaned and rolled over onto his back, opening his eyes to a dim room and the face of his old flatmate looking down at him. He was grateful Phil had closed the curtains. “Yeah. Head hurts,” he mumbled, taking the tablets and sitting up a bit to drink the water. Moving to sit up hadn’t made his head swim as badly as he’d feared, so he hoped that was a good sign.

“If you feel like you’re going to be sick, there’s a bin here beside the bed. The doctor said that might happen, but that we shouldn’t be too worried if it does. Do you feel sick?”

Dan shook his head, but was sorry he had. It made the pain in his right temple much worse. Also, his right shoulder hurt. “What’s wrong with my shoulder?” he asked quietly, not wanting to speak too loudly lest it break his head open.

“You just strained it a bit when you fell. Do you remember falling on the Tube?” Phil sounded so nice. Phil was always so nice to him. Even when he didn’t deserve it. Phil was just … nice.

Dan frowned slightly, trying to remember. “There was a pregnant woman,” he said hesitantly.

Phil smiled at him. “Of course there was. And you must have stood to give her your seat. Except instead you pitched over and gave everyone on the train a scare when you fell unconscious.”

“I fainted?” Dan asked in horror. He’d stumbled a few times when he stood too quickly, but he’d never actually lost consciousness before.

“A right proper swoon. In front of dozens of strangers,” Phil grinned with remorseless glee.

Dan groaned, feeling humiliated. Well, he supposed the story could be fodder for a video someday. That’s what he’d been telling himself the past several years whenever he embarrassed himself horribly.

“Are you still feeling sleepy?” Phil asked, and Dan was surprised to discover that he wasn’t. Not as much, anyway. Phil continued, “Because if you want to relocate to the sofa, we could put on some anime or a film, and you could snooze out there if you like. I could heat up a tin of soup for you if you feel up to eating something.”

“You’re too nice to me,” Dan moaned in self-loathing. He’d said all those cruel things to Phil, and he still hadn’t even apologized, and here Phil was taking care of him anyway.

But Phil just chuckled quietly. “That’s because I like you, you spoon. Now do you want to move out to the sofa or not?”

Dan decided that the sofa seemed like a fine idea, because he didn’t want to just lie here in Phil’s bed forever. Or maybe he did want that … a little too much. But when Phil went to help him stand, Dan noticed the fairy lights strewn across the headboard and glanced quickly to Phil’s face for explanation. Phil blushed and didn’t say anything at first. Then, finally, taking Dan’s arm to help him rise from the bed, he said softly, “I just missed you is all.”

On the sofa, Dan ate a bit of tinned soup, but it made his stomach feel funny, so he stopped after only a few spoonfuls and lay down with his head on the armrest. Phil put on Spirited Away, which they’d both seen multiple times, because he said it would be okay if Dan fell asleep and missed part of it, and then ran back to the bedroom to get the pillow and duvet to make Dan more comfortable. “Should I bring the bin, too, just in case?” he asked with a leery expression, but Dan said he didn’t think he would be sick. He just wanted to rest.

So they watched the film together, and Phil snuck his chilly feet under the edge of the duvet so that they rested against Dan’s feet, and it felt so homey that Dan didn’t want to miss a moment of it but found himself slipping back into sleep against his will.

*

When he next woke, he was feeling much more himself. The film had ended, and Phil was asleep nearby, his glasses askew on his face where he pressed against the back of the sofa. Dan felt a rush of emotion so intense that he was glad Phil wasn’t awake to see it on his face. How could he have let this go on so long without telling Phil how he felt, how sorry he was for the things he’d said? Phil had been so incredibly kind, and the least Dan could do was apologize for being such a wanker.

“Phil?” he whispered softly, not wanting to wake the other man if he was truly deeply asleep, but Phil roused immediately, lifting his head and looking toward Dan, then raising a hand to straighten his glasses.

“You okay?” Phil asked immediately. Of course he did.

“Yeah. Feeling much better, thanks. And I do mean that: thanks for everything you’ve done.”

Phil shrugged, then stretched his arms up and to the sides, yawning, before replying, “It wasn’t much.”

“I don’t just mean this,” Dan continued doggedly. “Not just the concussion. I mean everything. I shouldn’t have said those things I did when we fought last year. All you’ve ever done was help me and encourage me, and I threw it all back in your face.”

Phil shrugged again, looking uncomfortable. “We don’t have to go over all that again.” He wasn’t meeting Dan’s eyes anymore.

Dan sat up, letting the duvet pool at his waist. “I think we do, because I’ve been feeling terrible about it for ages. Since before VidCon. I wanted to talk to you then, but … well … we were having such a good time together … I didn’t want to bring up uncomfortable topics and maybe mess it all up.”

Phil met his gaze again, and those pale eyes were wide with surprise. “Since VidCon? Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

Dan nervously tried to pat his hair into place but was sorry when he accidentally touched his right temple, which was still quite tender. “I just didn’t know what to say. I feel so awful about the whole thing!”

Phil leaned forward, urgency in his expression. “Don’t! You were tired of the kind of videos we were making and you needed to go your own way, do something more important with your life. I’ve always understood that. You shouldn’t feel guilty for finding what makes you happy!”

“But YOU make me happy,” Dan blurted without thinking, then blushed when he realized what he’d said. “I mean, your videos have always made me happy, even before we ever met, and what you do is just as important as any of the more serious stuff I’ve been doing lately. It’s just different, that’s all.”

Phil leaned away again, curling in on himself and avoiding Dan’s eyes. “You don’t really mean that. I know you…” he swallowed visibly, then continued, “I know you probably look down on my content, because it isn’t as ‘meaningful’ as yours…”

But Dan interrupted him, “NO! That’s what I’m trying to say! Your videos are just as meaningful, just in a different way. Making people happy is meaningful. Making people laugh is meaningful. Remember all those subscribers we met on tour, at all the meet-and-greets, how many of them told us how our videos had gotten them through tough times in their lives? That matters, Phil! That matters a lot!”

Phil bit his lip uncertainly. “But if you really felt that way, why don’t you feel that way about your own content anymore?”

Dan sighed and unthinkingly ran his hand through his fringe, wincing again when he touched his temple. “I’ve been rethinking all that, ever since I had some long talks with Tyler before VidCon. You know how he does a lot of silly stuff, but does serious stuff, too. Well, he made me realize that I could do that. That I don’t have to stop doing baking videos or gaming videos in order to make a difference in the world, that I can do all of it. Because…” he paused before continuing, “I was feeling like a fraud before, like I was just pretending to be so cheerful and happy … but being away from you … I’ve realized that I did feel cheerful and happy when we were together.”

Phil’s mouth was parted slightly now as he stared fixedly at Dan’s face, looking startled. Then he stammered, “But I thought you and Louise … and your other friends…”

Dan rolled his eyes. “Do you really think anyone could replace you, Phil Lester? Because if you do, then you’re a bigger idiot sandwich than I ever thought.” He grinned.

Phil was smiling back now, that broad smile that changed his whole face and made him shine like the sun. “I’ve missed you so much,” he admitted.

“I’ve missed you, too!” Dan said firmly, but then his voice was more uncertain when he continued. “Halloween’s only a few weeks away … when I’m feeling a bit better … want to maybe…”

They’d been getting together to play games periodically since Summer in the City in August, but Dan wasn’t sure how Phil would react to his suggestion.

But Phil finished for him, “You think … maybe a baking video?” His smile looked tentative now, as if he didn’t want to get his hopes up.

“Or maybe … Spooky Week for the gaming channel? We haven’t posted anything there since last year. It’s probably growing cobwebs,” he joked awkwardly.

But Phil’s beaming smile was back. “Spooky Week? Really?” he asked, as if what Dan had said was too good to be true.

“I think it would be fun,” Dan replied with a smile.

Chapter Text

Dan ended up staying a few days longer than originally planned, probably a few days longer than were strictly medically necessary, because Phil couldn’t stand to have him leave so quickly when they were finally sharing a flat together again, even if it was really too small for the both of them. Phil kept sleeping on the sofa, insisting that the injured Dan keep the bed, even once it was clear that Dan was probably no longer suffering from anything more than a slightly tender spot on his head.

So Phil made him hot chocolate and brought him blankets and ran to the shops to buy him his favorite cereal and just generally treated him like something precious, which he was. And Dan asked Louise to stop by his own flat and bring him a few things, and then clearly just basked in Phil’s attention. Louise’s knowing face when she brought Dan his clothes and a few toiletries bothered Phil, because it wasn’t like that. Dan didn’t feel like that. Yes, he was allowing Phil to dote on him a little bit, but that was just because Dan was a total attention whore when he let himself be, and Phil was one of the few people who knew how to bring it out in him, knowing exactly how he liked his coffee, and exactly what anime or films to put on when he needed coddling, exactly how much to slouch so Dan could comfortably rest his head on Phil’s shoulder while they watched tv.

And Dan did rest his head on Phil’s shoulder—several times over the course of those few days—and the intimacy did nothing whatsoever to rid Phil of his unwanted feelings. But at least he had Dan as his friend again—they’d talked enough to make that clear enough. There would be no going back to the estrangement that had been so painful. But this closeness was painful in its own way, as well.

Yes, Dan had admitted to being bisexual. But he hadn’t shown any of that sort of interest in Phil in years. And he’d had plenty of opportunities.

So every time Phil caught himself letting his gaze linger a little too long on that beloved face, he would abruptly look away and chastise himself. He wasn’t going to mess up their newly redeveloping friendship because of a crush.

Yes, he knew it was more than just a crush, but using that word in his own mind helped. It made it sound like something frivolous he would get over in a couple weeks. And he couldn’t imagine living with this feeling permanently.

“I’m thinking about doing a video on transphobia. What do you think?” Dan’s voice interrupted Phil’s angsty reverie. They were sitting side-by-side on the couch, both huddled under the blue and green duvet with their laptops on their laps. Phil hadn’t been really looking at his, but Dan was typing quickly even as he spoke to Phil.

“I thought maybe I could contact Jake Edwards and Alex Bertie about doing a collab. Doing a video about transphobia when I’m not transgender seems kind of … inappropriate?”

Phil brushed his fringe out of his eyes and thought a moment. “Is it an issue that matters to you?”

Dan nodded emphatically, stopping his typing. “Especially with the attacks that have been happening in London lately. I feel like it’s an issue of general human compassion and empathy, not something specific to any one community. But I’m not sure if that way of looking at it is offensive. To trans people, I mean.”

Phil shrugged. “DM Alex and Jake and see what they think about a collab. Maybe tell them some of what you’re thinking, let them know you’re open to their point of view and want to present it in your video.”

Dan typed something else, then stopped again and looked at Phil. Their faces weren’t that far apart, and Phil hated that he noticed. “You don’t think it would be weird for me to do a collab with people who have so many fewer subscribers than me? I mean, I usually collab with people like you and PJ and Tyler. Jake and Alex only have a few thousand subscribers each. Will people think it’s weird?”

Phil laughed. “I definitely encourage you to work with up-and-coming young YouTubers. Look what it did for my life!” And Dan blushed a bit, looking away and laughing with him, bumping their shoulders together.

“Hey, when you’re done working on that, want to watch TATINOF?” Phil asked on a whim. Dan looked at him like he was crazy. “I just thought it might be fun to remember what it was like, creating the show together. We could watch the documentary instead, if you want.” Phil was deflating slightly. “Or just … never mind. Stupid idea.”

Dan put his hand on Phil’s forearm on top of the duvet and looked at him again. “Not a stupid idea. You’re right. It would be good to remember the fun parts. And nobody needs to know we sat around watching ourselves.” He looked embarrassed, and Phil realized that self-consciousness was the only thing that had been causing him to hesitate.

Phil mimed zipping his lips. “My lips are sealed.” They grinned at each other.

“Just let me finish typing up these notes and send off some messages to Alex and Jake, and then we can start it up, okay?”

*

Even after Dan finally went back to his own flat, he was coming over every day to plan the videos for Spooky Week, and then they were filming. Phil’s flat felt like theirs, and he hated it each day when Dan would leave for the night. Phil went to sleep in his bed with its string of fairy lights, and he didn’t wash the sheets after Dan left, because he wanted to be able to smell the scent of Dan’s skin on his pillow. He was pathetic.

Dan kept fretting that he wouldn’t be able to do a proper gaming video because he was so out of practice at doing lighter content, but they picked some good scary games and Dan didn’t have to pretend being frightened out of his wits, and Phil knew they’d be able to milk enough humor out of their fear to make the first video hilarious. He reassured Dan repeatedly, and it seemed to help a little. Dan slowly relaxed, bit by bit.

Normally, Dan liked to do the editing of the gaming videos himself, but he was oddly reticent this time, uncertain of his ability to edit for humorous effect after so long, so they edited the video together, sitting close in front of the computer monitor and making decisions collaboratively. It reminded Phil of how they’d created the TATINOF show, and he felt nostalgic and a little sad. They would probably never be that close again, not really. TABINOF and TATINOF had been the end of an era.

When they uploaded the first Spooky Week video to the gaming channel and announced it on social media to alert their fans, the subscribers went absolutely insane. The video had thousands of comments by the time Phil even logged on to look, and everyone was raving about how wonderful it was to see Dan and Phil together again, how funny the video was, how glad they all were to have them back. It seemed to bolster Dan’s self-confidence, and he was a little more relaxed in each video they filmed, until in the final one he seemed pretty much back to his old self.

But when they’d filmed and edited the final video for Spooky Week, Dan had no more reasons to be lurking at Phil’s flat every day, and Phil walked him to the door.

“So … uh … I guess I’ll text you?” Dan stammered awkwardly.

Phil groaned inside, but pasted a bright smile on his face. “Yeah. Of course. We’ll get together.”

“More gaming videos, of course!” Dan smiled lamely, then smacked himself in the forehead, moaning, “Not that that’s the only reason we’d get together!” He looked into Phil’s eyes. “I really do want to be friends again. It’s important to me.”

Friends. “Me too,” Phil pronounced firmly. He wondered if it would be weird if he gave Dan a hug, then decided to take the chance. He opened his arms and moved toward Dan, and Dan rushed to embrace him much more enthusiastically than he’d expected. He closed his eyes and relished the feel of Dan’s arms around him, their arms around each other. But then Dan was pulling away, and his color looked a little high like he was embarrassed. Maybe the hug had been too much?

“Well, I’d better get going,” Dan gestured toward the door and took a step backward toward it.

“Right. So … text me.”

“Right. Will do.” And then Dan was opening the door, and then he was gone, and the door closed behind him, and Phil was alone again. He rested his back against the door and let his face go blank. The flat was silent and empty around him.

*

It was a few hours later when Phil was pulled from a deep sleep by banging on his front door. He groped for his glasses and stumbled down the hallway to the door. He looked through the peep hole and was shocked to see Dan standing outside, his hair disheveled and his clothes askew. It looked like he was wearing … sweat pants? Had Dan come in his pyjamas?

Phil opened the door and saw that, indeed, Dan seemed to have thrown a coat over his sleepwear and slipped on some shoes and headed out into the night on some urgent errand that brought him to Phil’s door in the wee hours.

“Dan! What’s wrong?” Phil asked anxiously.

Dan looked harried. He ran his hands through his hair, which explained why it looked so disheveled. He stared into Phll’s face with a determined expression and said, “Okay. The thing is … I’ve got some things I need to say.”

Dazed and still sleep-befuddled, Phil figured the least he could do was invite him in. So he did.

Chapter Text

When Dan had left Phil’s flat a few hours before, he’d been horribly afraid that they were going to slide back into that terrible not-quite-friends zone they’d been in before the concussion, but he hadn’t known how to make sure that didn’t happen. So he just went back to his flat and sat in his sofa crease and scrolled through Tumblr without even really seeing anything on his laptop screen, thinking about these past few days, weeks, years with Phil.

Eventually, he decided to try to just go to bed, but he only tossed and turned, thinking of Phil back in the other flat, wishing he could talk to him but not sure what it was that he would want to say. Well, he knew what he wanted to say, but it probably wouldn’t be smart to say it. So he just stayed in bed and closed his eyes and tried to will himself to fall asleep, not that it helped in the slightest.

After nearly driving himself mad with all the bloody thinking, he finally got out of bed and threw on his coat and shoes and caught a cab to Phil’s place, because he just couldn’t take it anymore.

And now Phil was standing there, looking at him so adorably, all rumpled from sleep, his eyes bleary behind his glasses, his hair standing up in funny directions, and Dan suddenly loved him so much he could almost shatter from it. He opened up his mouth and words just started flowing out of him as he paced the lounge in frustration.

“Okay, so the problem is … see … the thing is, you’re a good person. I mean, like, a really good person. Some people are nice and all, but you’re literally the best person I’ve ever met. You’re kind and patient and generous and … you know … you really care about people … like you won’t swear on your channel because you’re worried about kids watching … because you’re a good person and you care. I don’t fucking care about swearing in front of kids on my channel. Kids shouldn’t be watching my channel, so I don’t give a fuck about them. Because I’m not a good person. But you care about people, even people you’ve never met. And you’re nice to your mum … and, well, you’re nice to everybody, really. And you even love all the fucking cute little animals, and you’re incredibly brave and you hardly ever get angry, and when you do you never say anything really mean. And, on top of all that, you’re smart and creative and funny. Not to mention the … the eyes … and the cheekbones … and the lips … and…”

“Wait. You’ve been looking at my lips?” Phil was rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses and looking rather confused.

“The point is that you’re obviously too good for me. I mean, it’s obvious to even the most casual observer that I’m not good enough for you. I’m selfish and petty and there’s a black hole where my soul should be…”

“That’s a load of rubbish!” Phil looked offended on Dan’s behalf now, but Dan didn’t let that stop him.

“It’s not rubbish—it’s true! And I fake being a nice person and being kind like you, but really I’m not. I’m just a fraud. I’m not a nice person or a good person or any of the things that you are. And when I’m embarrassed I just pull away and pretend like I don’t care, like I did in 2009 after that one time we … you know. That one time. And the next morning I just pretended like it didn’t matter. But it did matter. But I was too much of a fucking coward to face it and so I just acted like it hadn’t even happened. And you probably forgot all about it, because it wasn’t that big of a deal…”

“I didn’t forget about it…”

“…but it was a big deal to me, and I acted like it was nothing, because that’s what I do. I get scared and I withdraw and I lie and put on a big fake smile and I don’t talk about what’s bothering me, like I should have talked to you then, but I didn’t, because I’m a coward. I’m a fraud and a fake and a coward and a soulless abyss that no one would ever want to fall into…”

“Dan!” Phil stepped close and actually put his hand over Dan’s mouth. Dan nearly bit him in his agitated state, but settled for wrenching his head away and glaring. Phil stared at him for a long moment, his hands at his sides, his eyes growing clearer now behind his glasses, more awake, and then he was reaching for Dan and pulling him close, and then silencing Dan’s mouth not with his hand but with his own lips. Without any thinking or intention on his part, Dan’s arms wrapped around Phil in return, and they held each other gently, their lips touching just as softly, lips slightly parted so that they sealed perfectly, tenderly together. It was the sweetest kiss Dan had ever experienced, but then he’d never been kissed by someone as sweet as Phil before.

When Phil pulled away, carefully disentangling his arms enough that he could look into Dan’s face again, Dan just stared, his mind gone blank from shock, his waterfall of words and thoughts suddenly just cut off completely. Then his brain switched on again, although only sluggishly.

“You … you don’t understand,” he faltered quietly. “You don’t know what kind of person I am…”

Phil wrapped him in his arms more firmly again and pressed his head to Dan’s cheek. “I know exactly what kind of person you are. I know that for years you made a fuss about me eating your cereal, but always bought extra so that there was enough for both of us and never really made fun of me for why I might like your cereal better than mine. I liked it better because it was yours, and you knew it. But you didn’t mock me for that. I know that you agonize over every minute in your videos and every edit, and you put your entire heart and soul into making TATINOF the best it could be, not because you’re proud but because you always want to give your followers the very best of you because you care about them. I know that you’re the type of person who takes a smiling selfie with a fan in the airport even when you’re in pain and panicking that you’re going blind, because you know how much that moment means to that other person you’ve never even met before. Your kindness and commitment have made a huge difference in so many people’s lives … in my life especially. You say you’re soulless, but you care more than anybody I’ve ever met.”

Dan was glad their eyes weren’t meeting anymore in this close embrace, because tears had filled his eyes. “I could never love you the way you deserve to be loved. I’m not capable of it. I’m so cold and empty inside. You deserve so much more than … me.”

Phil pulled away slightly again so that he could see Dan’s face, and Dan disengaged to free his hands to take quick swipes across his eyes. But Phil’s hands still rested lightly around Dan’s waist and he smiled softly. “Just the fact that you say that shows that it isn’t true. I think you tell yourself that you don’t feel anything because the truth is that you feel too much, and that scares you. But you do love me … just like I love you. Don’t you?”

Dan stared into Phil’s beautiful blue eyes and didn’t know what to say. Phil was destroying the very foundations of so much of Dan’s self-image, but … perhaps … perhaps that was the part that had been fake, not the caring part. Perhaps the only fraud he’d committed had been in professing to not care. Because he did care about Phil, and he did care about his followers, and he cared about gender inequality and transphobia and so many other things … wasn’t that the whole point of this rebranding he’d done, to put out the things he actually cared about? Because he did care?

He leaned forward slightly, arms resting on Phil’s forearms, and pressed his mouth gently to Phil’s before pulling away just enough to ask quietly, “You think I’m good enough for you?” with his breath gusting softly against Phil’s lips as he spoke. Phil leaned in for another kiss before hugging him tightly and nodding with his cheek against Dan’s. Dan laughed a little and said, “Well, you’re a pretty smart guy, what with all the degrees, so if you think so, maybe I should listen to you.”

Phil pulled out of the hug and took Dan’s hand in his. “Come to my room with me? We don’t have to … I just want to be close to you right now.” Dan nodded and they walked to Phil’s room together.

They were fully clothed when they lay on the bed beneath the fairy lights that made Phil’s skin and eyes glow as if lit from within, but the same couldn’t be said by the time they woke up with bare limbs intertwined the next morning.

Chapter Text

“Hello Internet!” Dan makes his signature salute gesture, sitting on the floor in front of a Christmas tree which is covered in lights and baubles.

“It’s nearly the end of 2017 now, which means it’s been an entire year since I decided to head out on my own and change my channel toward more serious content, and after the initial shock”—the words “freak out” appear in shaking text on-screen in Comic Sans—“you’ve all been pretty darn supportive. And I’ve learned a lot of lessons in this past year, which is what I want to talk about today. I’ve learned a lot from my experiences, from my friends, and—most of all—from Phil.”

The screen goes black and the words “What I’ve Learned from Phil Lester” appear in script, along with a bit of quiet piano music.

Dan is on-screen again, still in front of the Christmas tree. “When I decided to move out from living with Phil, I had no idea how big a change that would make in my life. Hanging around the house all day doing nothing was fun when Phil was around. We’d watch anime together while we had breakfast, play video games, watch ‘American Horror Story,’ discuss video ideas, and just generally hang out together. When I moved out on my own, staying home all day just wasn’t the same. And when I did it for days on end, it became really unhealthy.”

Dan looks uncomfortable for a moment, then continues, “At the time, Phil and I weren’t … well … I ended up getting closer to some of my other friends, and—even though it wasn’t for the best of reasons—I’m really glad I learned how to foster friendships on my own. Phil had always made it easier for me, because he’s so naturally friendly, while my instinctive tendency is to shun society. I usually just stuck close to him in social situations and let him ease the way. But now I had to learn how to be a good friend, and how to let other people be good friends to me, and I think in the long run that will help me be a better friend to Phil, too. So I think it was worth it, even though it was hard.”

“Another thing I learned, and this was mostly through conversations with friends, was that I was being really stupid when I decided to change my branding for this channel, because I thought that I needed to be serious all the time if people were going to take my ideas seriously. But Tyler, for one, made me see that you can talk about serious shit in one video and be a complete doofus in another, and it’s fine. It just means you’re letting people see more than one side of you, and it’s normal to be a complex person who can both care deeply about Brexit and sing stupid songs about baking. Both of those are me, and I like who I am … all the things I am. That’s why I started doing the gaming videos with Phil again, because I realized that I don’t have to be Dour Dan 24/7 in order to create meaningful content. I can still just be me, and sometimes I’m serious and sometimes I’m not. And that’s all okay. It’s okay to be a complex person!”

“Speaking of complex people…” Dan pauses, then shouts, “Phil?” There is no answer. Dan yells again, “Phil!” Still no answer. Dan screeches, “Phiiiiillll!”

A door can be heard opening somewhere. Distantly, Phil’s voice replies, “What?”

“Come here.”

Distantly: “Why?”

“Because!”

Soft, socked footsteps are heard, and then Phil’s voice, nearer now but still off-camera, asks, “You’re filming a video?”

“Yeah,” Dan replies, and then scoots over a bit so that he is taking up less of the frame. He pats the floor beside him and says, “Come be in it for a bit.” There’s a pause, and then Dan whines, “Just for a minute?” and a moment later Phil sits beside him on the floor. They sit very close together in order to both be in frame, their legs and shoulders touching. Phil smiles into the camera and gives a little wave.

Dan looks into the camera and says, “I was just talking about how it’s okay to be a complex person, and be silly sometimes and serious sometimes, and it made me think of you, so I wanted you to come out and hear what I’m going to say next.” Phil looks at Dan, but Dan continues looking into the camera. “Phil Lester makes the most ridiculous videos I’ve ever seen. He’s the biggest goofball I’ve ever met. He’s a giant man-child who steals cereal and wears Cookie Monster pyjamas and loves his stuffed Totoro. But that’s not all he is.” Dan finally looks at Phil and smiles a little. “He also gets cranky when he’s hungry, and he doesn’t like when I fuss over little details in the gaming videos, and he’s a grown, adult man with opinions and feelings about things.” Phil looks back at the camera apprehensively.

Dan turns to the camera again. “I decided I wanted to show a more serious side of me to the Internet, but Phil taught me that isn’t the only way to be a YouTuber, and it isn’t the only right way. Phil chooses to create content that is accessible to a wider audience, because that’s what he’s comfortable with and because he’s sensitive to the younger viewers who follow his channel, and I totally respect his decisions. Phil is, in general, a really happy guy, and he likes to share that with all of you, because he likes to make you happy, and I think his content is—appropriately enough—amazing, and I always have. None of this“—Dan gestures between himself and Phil—“would ever have happened if I didn’t admire his work. So I don’t want there to be any confusion about that. Phil Lester is a phenomenal content creator and an incredible YouTube creative talent and I am glad every day that I discovered his channel and that he let me become his friend and was willing to work with me.”

Phil is looking down into his lap now, his eyes a little wet. After a moment, he raises a hand to wipe at his eyes. “You’ll have to edit out that bit,” he sniffles, still looking down. Dan looks at the camera and nods, then shakes his head, mouthing, “No way!” with a little smile.

Dan bumps his shoulder against Phil’s and says, “Meeting Phil was the best thing that ever happened to me, not just for my career but for my life in general. He’s been the best friend that anyone could ever ask for. It took me moving out for me to fully realize it, but now I have. Phil Lester has taught me how to be a better person, and I can never pay him back for giving me that incredible gift.”

Phil sniffles again and shakes his head, still not looking at the camera. “Give me a minute.”

The screen cuts to a shot of Dan and Phil sitting in front of the Christmas tree together again, but Phil looks more calm again, his eyes dry, his face smiling.

Dan looks into the camera and grins, “Some of you may be wondering why I’m filming this at Phil’s flat, in front of Phil’s Christmas tree, and why Phil was in a nearby room while I was filming. Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time here lately, and that’s because…” he looks at Phil, and then they both turn to look at the camera, beaming, and say simultaneously, “we’re moving back in together!” A sound effect of a cheering crowd sounds and animated streamers fall from the top of the screen.

“We didn’t do a Phil Is Not On Fire last month because we’ve been so busy looking for a place, and now we’re getting ready to move, but we promise we’ll do one next month once we’ve settled into the new house. Right, Phil?” Phil nods vigorously and crosses his fingers over his heart, making his best “very serious” face.

“But right now, I should probably wrap this up, because there are things to pack and plans to make and moving is kind of a pain in the ass. But I wanted to end with something that Dil said to Phil in TATINOF, because I think it’s true not only for Phil but also for a lot of people out there, a lot of you, and also me sometimes. Near the end of the show, Dil tells Phil, ‘You’re scared that who you are isn’t good enough. You think you have to change who you are to impress people.’ Well, you don’t. And Phil doesn’t. And I don’t, either. So prepare for Dan of 2018 to sometimes be a little less serious, though that’ll probably be mostly on Phil’s channel and on the gaming channel. So if you haven’t subscribed to those already, click on Phil’s face to subscribe to his channel or click below to subscribe to Dan and Phil Games. And if you haven’t already subscribed to me, then click on my face for that. And give us a cheeky thumbs up if you’ve enjoyed this video, or even just to tell Phil that you like his Christmas tree this year.” Phil laughs.

“Okay,” Dan says. “Goodbye!” He and Phil both wave before Phil’s hand moves to cover the camera lens, and the video ends.